Looking after your heart: watch your blood pressure!

Nutritionist Simon Bandy from Seaford based supplements company Health Plus gives his advice on lowering salt intake.

We’re frequently bombarded with advice to look after our hearts and alongside this comes advice on maintaining healthy blood pressure.

As well as exercise, diet plays an important role in heart and blood pressure health and I’m not really surprised to find that National Salt Awareness Week (this year from March 11-17) has rolled around again, highlighting the dangers of a too-high intake of this mineral which can be hidden in some pretty surprising places in our foods.

A high salt intake has been linked to a range of serious health problems and many people immediately think of heart attack and stroke.

Salt plays an important role in the development of these conditions as it’s a major factor in raised blood pressure, which in turn is a leading cause of both heart attacks and strokes.

Strokes are in fact the third biggest killer in the UK and reducing your salt intake by just 1g per day (an average 35g bag of ready salted crisps contains 0.5g of salt) can significantly improve your health. Less well-known conditions which have been linked to a high salt intake are kidney disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.

The theme for this year’s National Salt Awareness Week is ‘less salt please’ and while one of my favourite treats is a very occasional bag of crisps, I think it’s important to remember that salt is a substance that we become accustomed to and then load more onto our food.

Once we understand this we can monitor and adjust our intake. I always liken it to giving up sugar: at first we think that the sugar-free tea or coffee tastes awful, but our taste buds quickly adjust and before long it’s drinks with added sugar which taste awful! In the same way we can train our taste buds to enjoy foods with less salt.

So much salt is hidden in our foods these days that we can be unaware of the true level of our salt intake.

When I’m in charge of cooking at home I follow the advice that I give to others: not to add it in cooking but for each person to add it at table if required. This also means that everyone can adjust their added salt to their own tastes. However it becomes much more difficult when eating out, or if our diets include high amounts of processed foods.

Salt is of course a flavour enhancer and over time it has been included in ever-greater numbers of other foods where we wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it: in cakes, doughnuts, breakfast cereals, cheese (especially blue cheeses), ketchups and sauces and perhaps even more surprisingly, canned vegetables and pulses.

So if your stroll along our glorious seafront means occasional treats such as fish and chips or a visit to one of the gorgeous tea rooms where you may be tempted by an array of superb treats, enjoy – but go steady on the salt!

Simon Bandy is a nutritionist for natural supplements company Health Plus, which was established in Seaford over 20 years ago with a mission to promote optimum nutrition across the world. Family-owned and run since November 1991, the company supplies a wide range of British made, high quality nutritional supplements at www.healthplus.co.uk