According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, five main factors influence your blood pressure and the likelihood of suffering a heart attack or stroke: smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption, activity (exercise), weight, and the amount of salt in your diet.
South Africans currently eat 8 to 10g of salt per day, twice the daily World Health Organisation recommendation of 5g in total – in other words, the amount of table salt we add to food combined with the salt found in ready-made foods, such as bread, breakfast cereals and instant meals. Cut down your salt intake, and your health prospects immediately improve. ‘A recent study indicated that a two- to 2.3g salt reduction per day (half a teaspoon) is associated with a 20% reduction in cardiovascular events,’ says Megan Pentz-Kluyts, registered dietician.
1. Don’t keep salt on your table.
Advises dietician Gabriel Eksteen of The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa. This will avoid the temptation to add it to food out of habit. ‘Your taste buds change,’ he says. Food may taste strange in the beginning, but you will acclimatise, and start appreciating the natural flavours of veggies, for example.
2. When cooking or eating, find other ways to flavour your food.
Pentz-Kluyts recommends these alternatives:
- Lemon juice or vinegar
- Fresh or dried herbs
- Spices, including paprika, pepper and curry powder
- Garlic, ginger, onions and chilli
3. Cut down on salt-heavy ready-made foods.
These include sausages and other processed meats, instant stock, soup and gravy powders, hard brick margarine, potato crisps and instant meals.
4. Check the salt content on food packaging, and choose low-salt products (120mg or less per 100g.)
Foods containing moderate salt content (120-600mg per 100g) can be eaten sometimes, advises Pentz-Kluyts, and high-salt foods (over 600mg per 100g) should be avoided or limited. With the salt content of foods having come under scrutiny in South Africa, Unilever (makers of Knorr products), for example, has responded: salt content decreased by 7% in a tenth of its savoury products last year, and the company aims to reduce product salt levels to the 5g per day target between 2015 and 2020. Each time Knorr reformulates a recipe, its chefs ‘reduce sodium as much as possible’ without compromising on taste, says Keegan Eichstadt, assistant nutrition and health manager at Unilever SA. For example, ‘Stock Pot is lower in sodium than the majority of stock options you will find on shelf,’ he says.
5. Keep healthy food visible, and hide less healthy foods.
Advises Kim Hofmann, registered dietician. Rearrange your fridge so that the healthy foods are more visible – get your salads and vegetables out of the bottom drawer and store them on the fridge shelves instead – and keep other items (salami and brie!) out of sight in the chiller drawer instead.
Look out for our ’30 Days to Create Healthy Heart Habits feature’ in the September 2014 issue of Good Housekeeping.