Too much salt
According to new surveys by the Ministry of Health (MOH), nine in ten Singaporeans are eating too much salt, and hypertension (high blood pressure) among Singaporeans have nearly doubled since 2010.
The adverse impact of excessive salt intake extends beyond hypertension. “Consuming high levels of salt over a period of time can result in health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke and depletion of calcium stores in the body, leading to thinning bones, which poses a risk of osteoporosis,” says Ms Ong Li Jiuen, principal dietician of Changi General Hospital.
On average, Singaporeans consumes around 3,600mg of sodium a day, far above the recommended intake of less than 2,000mg or one teaspoon of salt a day. But reducing salt in our diet can a challenge, given the prevalence of sodium in commonly consumed foods.
What can we do about it?
While the human body needs about 500mg of sodium daily to function properly, this requirement can easily be met through regular meals, even without adding salt. So, what can we do about the excessive sodium in our diets?
- Read the labels: Pay close attention to food labels when shopping for groceries. Look for products with lower sodium content. Keep in mind that "low-sodium" or "reduced-sodium" labels can still contain significant amounts of salt, so check the actual sodium content per serving.
- Choose fresh foods: Prioritise whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and grains as these naturally contain lower levels of sodium. Incorporate more of these foods into your daily diet.
- Monitor your intake: Limit your consumption of processed and packaged foods, as they often contain high levels of sodium. This category includes items like canned soups, sauces, condiments (such as ketchup and soy sauce), and processed meats (e.g., bacon and deli meats). When cooking at home, use fresh herbs, spices, and alternative seasonings to enhance flavor instead of salt.
- Be mindful of what you eat: Recognize that processed curry pastes, soy sauce and stock cubes can be high in sodium. When dining out, opt for dishes that are less heavily seasoned, and avoid drinking up all the soup or laksa gravy in hawker foods, which often contain high amounts of sodium.
If you are used to a high-salt diet, reducing salt intake too drastically can make your food taste bland. Choose low-sodium snacks like unsalted nuts or fresh fruits and opt for dishes that are less heavy on the condiments. Gradually reduce the amount of salt you use, and allow your taste buds to adjust over time.
Foods that lower blood pressure naturally
Foods rich in nutrients like potassium, fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats, can have a positive impact on blood pressure regulation. Here are some foods to include in your diet to help lower blood pressure:
- Beets: Beets are high in nitrates, which can help widen blood vessels and improve blood flow, potentially reducing blood pressure. Beets are also high in antioxidants and potassium which decreases inflammation and supports heart health.
Berries: Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids that research has linked to a reduction blood pressure. Additionally, the high content of fiber, vitamins, and minerals in berries can improve the health of blood vessels, support overall heart health, and contribute to a well-balanced diet.
Leafy Greens: Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are high in potassium which helps the body balance sodium levels, and magnesium which helps relax the muscles in blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow and lower blood pressure.
Fatty Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which many studies have shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and keeps the heart healthy.
- Bananas: Bananas are another excellent source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure and balance the effects of sodium in the body. Bananas also contain antioxidants such as dopamine and catechins which may potentially reduce oxidative stress and inflammation contributing to the overall health of the cardiovascular system.
It's important to remember that food can either serve as medicine for our bodies or "poison" as poor food choices can contribute to chronic diseases that jeopardizes our health. If you want to effect positive, sustainable change, make gradual adjustments to your dietary habits. This approach will not only help you reduce your salt intake but also enhance your overall well-being in the long term.