By Guest Blogger Peta James, National Stroke Foundation
“Where is the seasoning?” “That is seasoned perfectly” “Did you season the dish?”
Whether from the lips of a famous chef, cravat wearing critic or with some form of exotic accent, the chorus repeated nightly on our television screens and now in kitchens across the country is the same; it’s all about the seasoning. Never before have we been so obsessed with the pleasure of food and with its seasoning; often in the way of adding salt to flavour our food.
But, did you know that much of the food we eat is already packed with salt? We get 75% of our salt intake from processed food. Then, to add a little more flavour, we add that little bit of extra salt.
So what is the problem with eating foods high in salt and adding salt to food at the table? In the lead up to National Stroke Week we will be tackling one of the major risk factors for stroke – high blood pressure -specifically by means of managing your salt intake.
But first, what is stroke?
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly disrupted. Blood is carried to the brain by blood vessels called arteries. Blood may stop moving through an artery because the artery is blocked by a clot or plaque, or because the artery breaks or bursts.
One in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime. Around 1000 Australians suffer a stroke each week – that is one stroke every 10 minutes. There are many things (called risk factors) that will determine your risk of suffering a stroke. However, the good news is that the majority of strokes can be prevented.
Stroke risk factors you can’t change:
- Age (as you get older your risk of stroke increases)
- Gender (stroke is more common in men)
- Family history of stroke (you can’t change your genetics)
Risk factors you can change:
- Blood pressure – reduce your salt intake
- Cholesterol- opt for unsaturated oils
- Smoking – if you smoke, quit
- Exercise – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week
- Diet – eat a balanced diet based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
- Alcohol- no more than two standard drinks per day and at least two alcohol free days
How does salt impact on blood pressure?
We need a small amount of salt (sodium) to help maintain correct blood volume. The problem is that when we eat more sodium than what we need, our body will hold onto water to try and get rid of the excess salt. This extra fluid means that we will have a larger blood volume which means that the heart has to work harder to push the extra fluid through the blood vessels. If this continues long-term the arteries start to thicken and stiffen and blood pressure rises; and high blood pressure is one of the key risk factors for stroke.
The tricky thing with high blood pressure is that often people may not experience any symptoms. Apart from having your blood pressure monitored by your doctor, there are some ways you can reduce salt in your diet which we will discuss later.
So how much salt is too much?It is recommended that we keep our sodium intake to a maximum of 2300mg of sodium per day which is equivalent to 6g (one teaspoon of salt). This includes the salt already in foods and any extra salt added in cooking or at the table. The problem is that most of us eat eight to nine times the amount of salt we need. It has been estimated that if we all reduce our salt intake from 9g to 6g, it would prevent around 6000 deaths a year from stroke and heart disease.
How can we reduce the amount of salt in our diet?
- Use fresh or minimally processed foods such as fresh, frozen or tinned vegetables and fruit. Check the label to see that they are tinned with minimal salt or no added salt where possible
- Spice things up instead of opting for the salt shaker. We now have access to more varieties of herbs and spices than ever before. The possibilities are endless. If you are looking for more variety than the supermarket spice rack take a wander through a local Asian or Middle Eastern supermarket and you will find even more wonderful flavours to try!
- Avoid adding salt to food at the table
- Choose low salt snacks such as air-popped popcorn and vegetable sticks with dip instead of options that are notoriously high in salt such as olives, pretzels and potato crisps
- Keep in mind that sea salt, vegetable salt and garlic salt all contain sodium and there is little difference between these options and table salt. The key is to keep it to a minimum as it is likely that you will be getting your recommended allowance from processed foods
- Check the sodium per 100g and choose products with the least amount of sodium. See more details on salt and food labelling below.
Low salt, reduced salt or no added salt – assaulting…
Low salt, reduced salt and no added salt labels are everywhere but what do they mean?
- Low salt– For products to have this claim they should contain no more than 120mg of sodium per 100g
- Reduced salt products generally have around 25-30% less salt than the regular variety. For example salt reduced margarine compared with the original version of the same brand
- No added salt – Just as the name says, a product with this claim should not contain any added salt
Make an informed choice for you and your family, check the nutrition information panel and compare the amount of sodium per and pick the product with the least amount of sodium.
Rest assured that our taste buds adjust to a lower salt diet. It usually takes a few weeks, so start with gradual reductions and eventually you will be less accustomed to eating a high salt diet.
Dukkah; ducking the salt
Dukkah is an Egyptian side dish made up of nuts, seeds and spices. Ingredients can be varied to suit your taste, it is fast and easy to make. It is perfect with bread and a good olive oil as an appetiser, or can be used to add texture to salad, tastes great on roast potatoes and (my fave) provides an amazing coating for chicken, lamb or fish.
- 75g almonds
- 75g cashews
- 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
Peppercorns to taste
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp smoked paprika
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place the almonds and cashews on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 mins. Set aside to cool.
2. Heat a small non-stick frying pan; once the pan is hot dry roast the seeds and peppercorns for 30 seconds.
3. Place the nut and seed mixture, chilli flakes and paprika in a food processor (or mortar and pestle) and process to a coarse powder.
Dry dukkah mixture can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
For further information about stroke including prevention and National Stroke Week visit the National Stroke Foundation
Also check out the Eat for Health website which includes information about reducing your salt intake.