Executive Health: Rubbing salt into the wound

In these days of upsized and king-size portions, it seems ironic that just gram or two of certain ingredient should be cause for such concern. But reducing sodium intake has become one of the key targets for improving New Zealanders’ heart health.
The main source of sodium in our diet is salt (2.5 grams of salt contains around one gram of sodium). The World Health Organisation recommends we eat somewhere between three to six grams of salt day – Kiwis average nine grams.
So why the fuss over just few grams?
International research has found strong evidence that the consumption of excess sodium raises blood pressure – key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
These are problems which come at huge financial and personal cost to New Zealand. Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease) accounts for 40% of deaths each year. One in seven Kiwis is currently taking medication for high blood pressure.
Modelling by Food Standards Australia New Zealand estimated that reducing the average sodium intake of the adult population by just one quarter would reduce the risk of cardiovascular event by 20 percent – resulting in 2745 fewer heart attacks in New Zealand each year by 2018.
But the problem is not so much heavy hand with the salt shaker. The majority of our sodium intake comes from the so-called “hidden” salt in processed and pre-packaged food. And when it comes to cutting down on these types of treats, convenience is commonly cited stumbling block.
This is where the workplace can play big role in improving national health outcomes. There are several simple, low-cost strategies that can be put in place to help employees reduce their sodium intake.

Where art thou?
With sodium present in so many everyday foods, knowing what types of food to cut back on is crucial. Foods high in sodium include processed meats, sauces and dressings, salty snack foods, and many fast food and takeaways. However, some ‘healthy’ low fat foods may also contain high amount of sodium – such as certain brands of canned soup and soy sauce. To help clarify matters, simple option is to provide nutrition information in your workplace, perhaps even running seminar on healthy eating.

Out of sight, out of mind
A sad truth of modern life is that processed foods are far easier to access than fresh – and often far cheaper. At Southern Cross Health Society, recent change of office prompted decision to remove snack vending machines – which we replaced with twice weekly fresh fruit delivery.

Making good choices easy
Make it policy to make healthy, low-salt food options available at functions. Provide plenty of fridge space and utensils in the work kitchen to encourage home-made food, and ensure the lunchroom is tidy and inviting. M

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

Slash the salt
Each year around 7600 Kiwis will be affected by stroke – and third of those will die from it. Stroke is the sudden interruption of blood flow to part of the brain, causing it to stop working and eventually damaging brain cells. Though commonly thought of as disease of the elderly, one in four people affected by stroke are under the age of 65.
Stroke is largely preventable, and lowering your blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk.
The Stroke Foundation is committed to reducing the salt in Kiwis diets as key way of reducing the impact of stroke on the community.

Tips for reducing salt intake
• Eat fresh foods.
• Check the sodium level of packaged foods. Food is considered low in salt/sodium if it contains less than 120mg per 100g of food.
• Cut back on fast food and other takeaways.
• Use herbs, spices and other seasonings instead of salt during cooking and at the table.

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