Walk into any health centre, public or private and the first thing after registration is to get your vital signs, which includes your blood pressure.
It is no longer news that the prevalence of hypertension or high blood pressure is high among the Nigerian population.
The global burden of hypertension and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is rapidly increasing and the entire African continent seems to be the most affected region in the world and the data in Nigeria forms a substantial part of the total burden in Africa because of our large population which is currently estimated to be over 180 million.
What causes hypertension?
Apart from stress, genetics, smoking and obesity, one of the major culprits is SALT (sodium).
This is the difference between Salt and Sodium: Salt (table) is a mineral composed of 40% sodium (Na) and 60% chloride (Cl) but it’s the sodium in salt that is bad for your health.
Although health professionals talk about salt, it is the sodium that is listed on food labels in supermarkets and what we should be keeping track of.
One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium. As much as we are told to limit sodium in our diets, we all need some sodium for good health.
Sodium is added to almost all processed foods. Some foods are known to be high in sodium, but what’s also important is how much and how often the food is consumed.
Certain frequently consumed foods such as canned foods, pizza, sandwiches, frozen dinners, pasta dishes, snacks and breads are known to contribute significantly to sodium intake.
On the other hand, some high-sodium foods, such as dried fish, do not contribute as much to overall sodium intake because they typically aren’t consumed in large quantities, or as often.
Why is sodium added to food?
Sodium is added to processed food for many reasons. It could be used to control growth of microorganisms which can cause food to spoil and to cause illness.
Sodium is also used for taste and for texture, leavening, and fermentation.
Even though sodium is necessary for many reasons, today’s food supply contains too much sodium and is hurting many hearts.
That’s why the American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of sodium you eat to less than 1,500 mg per day for ideal heart health. That’s about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.
Salt works on your kidneys to make your body hold on to more water. This extra stored water raises your blood pressure and puts strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain.
The raised blood pressure caused by eating too much salt may damage the arteries leading to the heart. This may lead to angina (sharp pains in the chest when being active).
With this condition the cells in the heart don’t work as well as they should because they are not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients.
If you continue to eat too much salt then, over time, the damage caused by the extra blood pressure may become so severe that the arteries burst or become completely clogged, then the part of the heart that was receiving the blood no longer gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs and dies. The result is a heart attack.
Increased blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke too.
This shows that there is a public health need to reduce sodium/salt in our diets. Appropriate interventions need to be developed and implemented to reduce the preventable burden of hypertension.
Nigeria needs to follow suit in order to save more lives.
Some multinationals like Nestlé for example, has a sodium policy which says it is committed ‘to further reduce the level of sodium (salt) in its food and beverage products and help consumers achieve target daily sodium (salt) intake levels corresponding to recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).’
Policies need to be drafted in line with WHO guidelines. In the figure below, Nigeria is one of those nations in the world without a salt/sodium policy which can act as a measure to reduce unhealthy diet among the citizens.
The National Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC needs to work with food companies and restaurants to gradually adjust sodium levels in food.
Don’t forget your health is in your hands, so do your heart a favour and reduce your salt intake drastically!