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The case of salt and high blood pressure!

Could the salt –an appetizer be bad for health?

The salty taste is readily identifiable and plays a significant role in our diets, as salt is commonly used as a seasoning and preservative in various foods. The salty taste is primarily derived from salt, specifically sodium chloride. It’s one of the six basic tastes that our taste buds can detect, along with sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. Each of the six tastes, including the salty taste, has specific effects on the body and mind.

We do need salt !!

The idea that the salty taste can be energizing, nutritive, grounding, and soothing to the nervous system reflects how Ayurveda views taste as having a holistic influence on our well-being. It’s considered not only for its nutritional value but also for its ability to affect our mental and emotional states.

From the perspective of Ayurveda, the salty taste is associated with the water and fire elements and hence balances Vata and is known to have several effects such as:

  1. Increased Salivation: The salty taste can stimulate salivary glands, aiding in the initial stages of digestion.
  2. Digestive Support: It supports digestion by enhancing the digestive fire (agni), helping to break down food efficiently.
  3. Absorption and Assimilation: Salty taste is believed to facilitate the absorption and assimilation of nutrients from the digestive tract.
  4. Elimination: It activates apana vayu-downward movement and hence supports proper elimination, helping in the removal of waste products from the body.
  5. Growth and Muscle Strength: In moderation, the salty taste is associated with growth and the development of muscle strength.
  6. Moistening: It can help maintain moisture in the body, preventing excessive dryness.
  7. Water-Electrolyte Balance: The salty taste plays a role in maintaining the balance of water and electrolytes in the body.

It’s not only associated with physical aspects like nourishing the plasma, clearing channels, and preventing stiffness but also has an impact on the mind and emotions.

While the salty taste, like other tastes, has its benefits when consumed in moderation, excessive consumption can indeed disrupt the balance of the dosha’s and lead to various health issues such as:

  • Sodium and Water Retention in the body, potentially causing swelling and oedema.
  • Blood Thickening: It can lead to thicker and more viscous blood, which can strain the cardiovascular system.
  • The excess sodium can contribute to the narrowing of blood vessels, increasing the risk of high blood pressure.
  • High salt intake can lead to increased thirst as the body tries to flush out the excess sodium.

Balancing taste in the diet is a fundamental principle in Ayurveda. It emphasizes moderation and the importance of recognizing individual constitution (Prakruti) and imbalances (Vikruti) to make dietary choices that support overall health and harmony.

So what is considered excessive salt intake?

Our ancestral diet had a balanced sodium-potassium ratio, favouring potassium. As updated in September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a daily intake of less than 2,000 mg of sodium (5 grams of salt) and at least 3,510 mg of potassium for adults to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases. These guidelines aim to address the imbalance between sodium and potassium intake and reduce the risk of conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Potassium and sodium maintain an inverse connection: When sodium levels rise, potassium levels fall, and conversely, when sodium decreases, potassium tends to increase. Potassium, abundant in plant-based foods, exerts an opposing influence in the body, promoting the relaxation of blood vessels, enhancing sodium excretion, and reducing blood pressure. Abundant sources of potassium encompass fruits, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, dairy products, and starchy vegetables like winter squash/pumpkin

However, modern diets, rich in processed foods, disrupt this balance, causing excessive sodium intake and inadequate potassium, contributing to health issues like hypertension. So when you’re eating a lot of plant foods, you’re getting a lot of potassium if you’re eating a lot of processed food you’re getting a lot of sodium.

 Limit sodium intake

In essence, the problem lies in excessive salt added to processed foods, not the salt you add to your own cooking. The key is to focus on consuming ample fruits and vegetables rich in potassium, as they balance salt intake. For those sensitive to salt [some people are genetically salt sensitive], it’s essential to avoid processed foods where salt is hidden. So, adding a pinch of salt post-cooking is fine, as long as your diet prioritizes plant-based, unprocessed reducing the consumption of processed and restaurant foods, which are often high in salt.

 Use herbs and spices to season food instead of salt.

Some of the wide variety of fruits and vegetables rich in potassium include:

1. Bananas: Bananas are a readily available source of potassium and are commonly consumed.

2. Oranges: Oranges are not only a good source of vitamin C but also contain potassium.

3. Tomatoes used in various dishes, are potassium-rich.

4. Spinach or “palak,” is a leafy green vegetable abundant in potassium.

5. Potatoes particularly when eaten with their skin, are a decent source of potassium.

6.Sweet Potatoes or “Shakarkandi”  are another potassium-rich option.

7. Brinjal (Eggplant) This commonly used vegetable in Indian cuisine contains potassium.

8. Lentils or “dal” are not only a good source of plant-based protein but also provide potassium.

9. Cauliflower is a potassium-rich cruciferous vegetable.

10. Pomegranates, or “anaar,” are a delicious source of both potassium and antioxidants.

11. Guavas are a tropical fruit high in potassium and vitamin C.

12. Tender coconut water is a good source of potassium.

Remember that a balanced diet incorporating a variety of these fruits and vegetables can help maintain healthy potassium levels and support overall well-being.

Note : While it’s common advice to reduce salt intake for high blood pressure, recent studies suggest that for individuals following a whole, unprocessed diet, overly aggressive salt reduction may not be universally beneficial. A study on heart failure patients found that those restricting salt were 85 percent more likely to face adverse outcomes than those who didn’t. However, it’s important to note that some people are salt-sensitive, so individual considerations apply.

Certainly, you should avoid excessive salt consumption, especially with high blood pressure. It’s not a limitless allowance, so be cautious. Regularly monitor your blood pressure and pay close attention to your diet.

Iodized salt is prevalent, as it addresses iodine deficiencies that were once common in the population. Iodine is essential and can lead to health issues when lacking.The need for extra iodine depends on your diet.

Here are some iodine-rich vegetarian foods:

  1. Iodized Salt: The most common source of iodine is iodized table salt.
  2. Seaweed (Kelp):You can find dried kelp, a rich source of iodine,
  3. Whole Grains: Some whole grains, especially those grown in iodine-rich soils, may contain iodine. These include rice and wheat.
  4. Legumes: Certain legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas, can provide small amounts of iodine.
  5. Fruits: Fruits like bananas, strawberries, and cranberries contain iodine in varying amounts.
  6. Nuts: Nuts like almonds and walnuts may have small amounts of iodine.
  7. Leafy Greens: Leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, if grown in iodine-rich soil, can contain iodine.
  8. Potatoes: Potatoes, particularly when consumed with their skin, can be a source of iodine.

Please note that iodine content in plant-based foods depends on the iodine levels in the soil they’re grown in. If you have concerns about iodine intake, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

To effectively address high blood pressure, the first step is to reduce inflammation and eliminate oxidative stress from your diet. Achieving this involves cutting out processed foods and shifting to a diet primarily consisting of whole, plant-rich foods that are high in potassium.

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