Salt can have damaging effects on multiple organs throughout the body, including the kidneys, brain, arteries and heart. It can put strain on these organs and increase blood pressure, a major risk factor of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. To raise awareness of the effect salt has on people, the Consensus Action on Salt and Health sponsors an annual Salt Awareness Week, which takes place in 2016 from 29 Feb. to 6 March.
What exactly does salt do to the body?
The kidneys are responsible for removing excess water from the bloodstream by moving the fluid to the bladder where it takes the form of urine. However, the kidneys need an even balance of potassium and sodium to transfer the water across the wall of cells into the channel that takes the fluid to the bladder. According to Blood Pressure UK, salt increases the amount of sodium in your blood, making it a lot harder for the kidneys to remove the excess water. This extra fluid can begin to weigh on the kidneys, putting strain on them and raising blood pressure levels. Over time, this strain can end up resulting in kidney disease, which limits the vessel's ability to filter out toxic waste from the body. If untreated, kidney disease can lead to kidney failure.
The arteries also become affected when blood pressure increases so much that it puts strain on the small muscles within the artery wall, which become stronger and thicker in response. This process ultimately raises blood pressure even higher because it reduces the space inside the arteries. Blood Pressure UK says this process can take years, but over time can result in burst or clogged arteries, which deprives the rest of the body of essential oxygen and nutrients.
When the arteries can no longer deliver blood to the heart, chest pain can ensue. If you don't take steps to lower your blood pressure, the heart becomes so starved of the essential nutrients and oxygen it requires to function properly that it fails completely, resulting in heart attack.
Narrowed or clogged arteries also prevent the brain from receiving the blood it needs to function sufficiently. This can lead to vascular dementia. When high blood pressure worsens and the arteries burst, the part of the brain that usually receives oxygen and nutrients carried from the arteries dies. The result is commonly stroke and the inability to handle tasks that the affected area of the brain once controlled.
The best way to avoid these serious health problems is to limit the amount of salt you eat on a regular basis. This will allow your organs to do their jobs and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
"Pay close attention to the ingredients labels."
How can you avoid salt?
It can be tricky to eat less salt, as many foods today are packed with salt. The NHS recommends shopping for foods that contain low salt by paying close attention to the ingredients labels before making your purchases. About 80 per cent of the salt people consume comes from processed foods versus the foods they cook, according to Blood Pressure UK. Try to eat no more than 6 grammes of salt per day. Avoid cured meats and fish, tinned vegetables with salt, cheesy or ready-made pasta sauces with high salt content, and dressings or sauces like soy sauce, mayonnaise, mustard and pickles.
Even junk foods can be made with low salt, so look for products that contain low amounts on their ingredients labels when buying crisps or crackers. However, it's always better to swap these unhealthy snacks with fresh fruit or vegetables, such as carrots or celery.
When it comes to cooking, consider replacing salt with healthier seasonings. The NHS says switching salt with black pepper on foods like fish and pasta is healthier and won't reduce flavour. Herbs and spices, such as garlic, ginger and chilli, can also take salt's place in your meals. Instead of frying your vegetables, try roasting or baking them, as this is more effective at bringing out their flavour.
At all Gracewell care homes, such as our Kentford Manor home, we offer residents a daily menu of nutritious foods to ensure they're staying healthy. Contact us to find a location near you.