Getting to the salt of the matter

Dubai: While the jury is out on the recommended salt intake, doctors are wary of going a little too easy on sodium in the diet and caution people to practise moderation.

Dr Elhadi Eltayeb Abbas, Senior Consultant and Head of Department, Internal Medicine, RAK Hospital, told Gulf News: “Although salt is not a direct cause of stroke, it has a direct link to hypertension, which raises the risk of stroke.”

He said taking too much salt causes fluid collection in the blood vessels, which in turn triggers a rise in blood pressure.

“Too much sodium in the blood makes people thirsty and increased fluid intake collects as oedema in the ankles,” he said. “Left unchecked this condition turns chronic and makes the patient hypertensive.”

Dr Abbas said many people were not mindful of the amount of salt they eat, that is hidden in processed foods, pickles and preserved meats.

“Once people cut these foods from their diet, they are able to reduce blood pressure and treating blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke by 60 per cent.”

Dr Abbas however, agrees that it is also not advisable to have bland food devoid of salt to cut back the risk of stroke and hypertension.

“To little salt can cause muscle paralysis and also trigger heart attacks. The normal daily recommended allowance of sodium is 2.3 gm which is about 5 gms of salt or roughly about one tablespoon.”

He said he did not support the theory that people can go easy on potassium instead of cutting down salt to avoid strokes.

“Potassium cannot be recommended to people with kidney disease as one of the main drawbacks of a malfunctioning kidney is its inability to flush out potassium. So the balance is quite delicate. Moderation is the key for everything.”

He advised people to increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables rich in potassium to reduce hypertension.

“Natural wholesome foods have an overall good impact on people’s health and are highly recommended instead of direct potassium and calcium salts.”

But he contradicted the statement that food without salt was bland.

“People often mistake salt to be a taste enhancer. However, one can cook with fresh herbs, lemon and spices for flavour enhancing and need not put too much salt for better taste.”

“What people are doing in UK is great. From an intake of 12gm of salt they have come down to 7-8 gms, have increased fresh fruit and vegetable intake that provides natural potassium and have also increased physical activity. So a reduction in hypertension is a cumulative effect of all these steps.


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