Go easy on the salt and prevent stroke

We have all heard the saying take with a pinch of salt, and although a small amount of salt is fine as part of a healthy diet, too much can increase your chances of having a stroke.  Despite being a largely preventable condition, stroke is still the third most common cause of death in the UK, with around 150,000 strokes and mini-strokes (TIAs) each year.  Making small life-style changes, like cutting down on the amount of salt you eat, will go a long way towards protecting yourself against having a stroke in the future.

Reducing the amount of salt we eat is not as easy as you might think.  A staggering 75-80% of our total daily salt intake is already hidden in the everyday foods we buy.  Foods like canned and packet soups, sauces, baked beans, pork pies, pizzas and ready-made meals all contain high levels of salt.  Adults need less than 6g of salt, about a teaspoon, a day but we are eating far more than we need: around 7 to 10g a day.

Why is salt so bad for us?  Too much salt can increase our risk of developing high blood pressure which can lead to a stroke, heart attack or heart failure.  Salt slowly raises our blood pressure and as we get older our blood pressure tends to rise anyway.  Going easy on the amount of salt you eat will greatly help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of having a stroke.  The same is true for children because blood pressure first starts to rise in childhood.

So, the next time you are in the supermarket, take a minute or two to look at the salt content on the food labels.  You know you are eating too much if the label says 1.5g or more.  A small amount of salt is 0.3g or less.  Salt often appears as sodium on food labels, so 6g of salt is the same as 2.5g of sodium.

Here are some tips to help you to reduce the levels of salt in your diet:

Try to avoid salty toppings when eating out or having a takeaway, for example cheese, pepperoni or bacon on pizzas and burgers. 
• Go for plain rice: it is actually lower in salt than egg-fried rice or pilau rice.  It is not easy to break the salt habit. 
• Try not to add salt to your food while cooking or at the table; instead add mixed herbs or spices to give your food more flavour.  If you must season your food use black pepper: you can try it on pasta, scrambled egg, fish and soups. 
• Avoid salty snacks like crisps and opt for healthier options like fruit. 
• Go easy with the soy sauce, mayonnaise and ketchup as these can be high in salt too.  Try the unsalted or low salt options in the foods you buy. 

Salt is also found in some breads, breakfast cereals and in cakes and biscuits too.  Ideally you should try and have a balanced diet containing fresh fruit, vegetables, starchy foods like potatoes, pasta and rice and less fat, salt and sugar.

Give yourself time to adjust to your new lower salt levels.  This is because during the first couple weeks you may find that foods tend to taste bland, but you will soon start to taste the real and delicious flavour of natural food.

On a final note, remember it is YOU who have the power to minimise your chances of getting a stroke.  So go easy with the salt and you really will be doing yourself a big favour.  You can find further information about salt and its impact on your health on the Consensus Action on Salt and Health website http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/.


Barbara Kitson
Stroke Specialist Dietitian
Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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