Stroke is the third biggest killer in the UK, after heart disease and cancer. In 2010 just under 49,000 people in Britain died from a stroke, and there are currently over 1 million stroke survivors, half of whom are left disabled with varying degrees of paralysis and loss of brain function. Strokes cost the NHS over £4 billion a year.
How can you reduce your risk? As a personal trainer, I advise all my London clients that there are three major things you can do to significantly cut your risk of stroke: exercise more, eat healthily, and in particular cut down your salt intake.
The single biggest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, and excessive salt intake is a major cause of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The best way to cut down on salt is to stop eating junk-food. That includes boxes of breakfast cereal, ready-meals, sauces and ketchups, and processed meats.
Even when you’ve eliminated these from your diet, there’s hidden salt in products you wouldn’t expect, such as bread and tins of beans. Check the label for brands which are low in salt, and buy these instead.
Don’t be fooled by junk-foods which are labelled ‘reduced salt’, such as crisps. They may contain less salt than the original varieties, but the salt levels are still too high. I advise my personal training clients to avoid crisps altogether.
There is absolutely no need to add salt in cooking. Once you cut excess salt out of your diet, your taste-buds will become more sensitive, and you’ll be able to appreciate more subtle flavours. Instead of using salt, improve the flavour of your food with garlic, ginger, herbs and spices.
Everyone needs salt in small quantities, and you’ll get enough salt in a healthy diet that includes fish, lean meat, wholemeal bread, and dairy products. The minerals chloride and sodium are two of the electrolytes (the chemical term for salt is sodium chloride) – minerals vital for regulation of fluids between your bloodstream and the cells of your body, and for the transmission of nerve impulses.
For adults, a healthy salt intake is 5g per day. The UK average salt intake is much higher, at around 8g per day, and people who eat mainly junk-food consume dangerous levels of salt, putting themselves at high risk of stroke. One teaspoon of salt is 6g, so you should consume the equivalent of just under a teaspoon of salt a day, not by adding salt, but from the natural healthy foods you eat.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London