A frantic lifestyle, long working hours and even longer distances to commute in metros and cities make ready-to-eat packaged food an attractive option, which requires only a few minutes of warming.
But the flip side is that their salt content is on the higher side. So regular dependence on fast food or packaged foods promotes greater salt intake, which accumulates in the body and poses serious health risks.
These risks are rising blood pressure (BP) levels, which could act as trigger for cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks, besides cerebral strokes, as well as kidney failure, B. Sesikeran, director of Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) said.
`Several global studies have clearly indicated that reduction in salt intakes even by small quantities significantly decreases the average blood pressure of a population. The prevalence of hypertension is low among populations consuming less than three grams of salt daily. The usual increase in BP with age is also not seen with such (low) intakes,` Sesikeran said.
Last week, the NIN recommended a reduction of salt content by the packaged food industry, besides limiting maximum salt intake to six grams per day, down from the eight grams permitted under 1998 nutritional guidelines.
`The prevalence of high blood pressure in more than a third of urban Indian population could be largely contributed by higher salt intakes, though several other factors, including stress and other chronic disease, may also be involved,` said Sesikeran.
However, salt, for all its negative publicity, is crucial for the functioning of the heart, adrenals, liver and kidneys, and even for digesting food. It transports nutrients to the cells, keeps calcium and other minerals soluble and maintains the body`s balance of fluids.
Sea or raw salt seems to be a healthier option because it has a number of trace minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium, but processed salt loses all these micro-nutrients.
A study by Patricio E. Ray, published in the journal Kidney International, has found that potassium deficiencies increase BP and induce salt sensitivity, that is bringing on more adverse effects with the same quantity of salt.
`Potassium has the exact opposite effect on the BP when compared with sodium in the edible salt. Its higher intake also results in more expulsion of sodium from the kidneys,` said Sesikeran.
Simply stated, posassium in diet is effective in lowering BP.
Sesikeran suggested blending potassium chloride with sodium chloride to reduce the sodium content for every gram of salt consumed.
The best sources of potassium are provided by fruits and vegetables. However, higher potassium intakes may not be advisable for those with certain forms of kidney or heart disease. It is safe for the general population, he added.
Whether salt is consumed as a processed or sea salt, the body ultimately takes up sodium chloride (salt`s chemical name) which largely determines the BP. The NIN recommendation limits consumption to 2,400 mg sodium chloride daily.