More flavour, less salt

“More Flavour, Less Salt!” The World Salt Awareness Week falls from March 8 to 14 this year. The aim is to raise awareness of the damaging effect of too much salt on our health. The average salt intake per day among Malaysians was 7.9g in 2017–2018. This far exceeded the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is less than 5g per day.

Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi, Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming, and Dr Wan Kim Sui (our Doctor of Public Health candidate) wrote to the media to raise awareness about excessive salt intake and suggested some measures to control blood pressure. The article was published in The Star and Malaysiakini.

Excessive salt consumption is related to hypertension, a “silent killer.” Most individuals with hypertension do not have symptoms. Thus, it is essential to measure blood pressure regularly. The recent 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey reported that 30.0% of our adult population had hypertension. What is worrying is that almost half of the respondents do not know that they have the disease. If left undetected or uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, vision loss, and sexual dysfunction.

Diverse factors such as diet, physical activity level, body weight, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, mental stress, medical conditions, and medications can all affect blood pressure readings. Hence, it is not surprising that blood pressure among patients is often difficult to control. Among diabetic hypertensive patients in Malaysia, blood pressure trends have mostly stagnated, although more than half were on two or more blood pressure medications. Moreover, only a quarter of them achieved the recommended blood pressure goal.

The proposed measures to prevent hypertension or optimise blood pressure control are:

  1. Know the numbers – only by checking our blood pressure regularly can we know about our blood pressure status.
  2. Reduce our dietary salts intake. Replace salt with spices, fresh herbs, garlic and black pepper. Cut back on sauces – soya sauce, salad dressing and others. Avoid foods high in salts such as instant noodles, fast foods, smoked, salted or canned meat, fish or poultry.
  3. Home cooked food – get creative in the kitchen and try out new recipes.
  4. Adopt a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and fish and low in red meat, sweets, salts, and fats.
  5. Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption for non-Muslims.
  6. Exercise regularly. Resistance training using weight (e.g., bodyweight exercise) and aerobic exercise (e.g., brisk walking, cycling, jogging) help.
  7. For individuals on blood pressure medications, do adhere to the prescribed treatment plans.

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