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Now that the English version of my book is on its way, there is a lot of contact with my other home country: South Africa. Food is of course a topic that pops up every time I have a conversation with the "other side". At the moment, a physical trip to that side of the world is unfortunately not possible due to corona. But if you're a fan of delicious food and descent portion sizes, you should definitely put Mzantsi on your bucket list. Boy, they can cook! But I have to admit, often with a lot of salt. Perhaps that is exactly the reason why it is so tasteful. What worries me a bit is the ever growing number of people with health problems out there, including high blood pressure, which is actually a phenomenon we see on a global scale.
Salt is one of the culprits here and there. And it is quite a difficult one because, although salt has been used for centuries as a preservative and for seasoning, it has also caused a lot of health problems in recent decades: I'm talking about high blood pressure.
High blood pressure: who has it?
In my practice I see that almost half of my clients (ranging from (top) athletes to obese people) come in with a high blood pressure. I repeat: half of all clients! This reflects a global trend in which we see that between 20% to even 60% of a country's population is affected by hypertension [1,2]!
Taken together, the following groups are particularly vulnerable when it comes to developing high blood pressure:
People with a lot of stress (eg due to work)
People with an African background
People, from the age of 40-45
The dangerous thing about high blood pressure is that you actually do not notice anything, but it does put you at great risk for developing heart disease.
High blood pressure: and so?
A lot of my clients enter my practice with a specific question, but often also without obvious physical complaints. The dangerous thing about high blood pressure is that you don't actually notice anything, but it does pose a great risk for developing heart disease. Hypertension (as high blood pressure is also called) is an assassin par excellence that can literally have deadly consequences or otherwise it could leave you severely imparied (cognitively or physically) after it strikes. Your way of living has a huge impact on your blood pressure and the foods you eat also play a role. Salt takes the lead in this.
Salt: it preserves
First of all this: a minimal amount of salt (actually sodium) is necessary for proper bodily functioning. Think of proper nerve and muscle function for instance. Salt has played a role in the preparation and preservation of our food for thousands of years. In the Netherlands we have the famous brine herring; South Africans have their biltong. Salted and dried meat - from beef, game or ostrich - that finds its origin in prehistoric times, when the country was still inhabited by its earliest inhabitants, the San and Khoikhoi. Mind you that it is absolutely different and better tasting than beef jerky!
Having said that, salt helps preserve meat by killing bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, as well as by inhibiting the growth and reproduction of harmful microorganisms. Salt dries out the harmful micro-organisms. A nice side effect is that some herbs - such as coriander, which is commonly used in biltong production - can have comparable effects .
We love salt!
So far, so good, right? Let's take it a step further, because we also like salt. Chips, fries, chocolate, porridge and the hot meal, of course: they all don't stay untouched by the magic white fine crystal-like powder we call salt. We love salt and it has gained a central role in our way of cooking as it also enhances other flavours. So for most of us, cutting back is rather difficult. Still, cutting back is worth considering, and not just for the reason that too much salt causes such a stringent mouthfeel!
How much is enough?
The maximum amount of salt considered healthy is about 6.0 grams (or less) per day. The average Dutch person eats more than 1.5 times as much. Six grams of table salt, or sodium chloride, consists for about 50% of sodium (exactly: 2.4 grams) and that's the bad MF when it comes to our health. This is where things already go wrong! And because table salt (that super fine powder) is purified (refined), it also contains relatively much sodium compared to more natural variants such as sea salt or rock salt.
It is good to know that about three quarters of our daily sodium intake already enters your body in the form of added salt!
Large amounts of sodium increase your blood pressure, which can lead to heart, brain, kidney and general vascular disease. By the way, it is good to know that about three quarters of our daily sodium intake already enters your body in the form of added salt: so that's your second pitfall. So before you even open your food package and before you walk into your favourite restaurant, a large part of your permitted intake of salt has already been added to the food that you are about to eat [4,5]! That's one more reason why cutting down is so difficult…
But there is another one. That other one is often seen as the counterpart of sodium: potassium. Like sodium, potassium is a mineral that plays a role in muscle function, among things.
The daily recommended amount of potassium is about 3.0 - 4.5 grams per day. A high potassium intake lowers blood pressure  and that positive effect of potassium is greater in people who i) already have high blood pressure, ii) the elderly, iii) people who consume a lot of salt and iv) people with an African background. So there is a good chance that you too benefit affects you too can benefit from a greater potassium intake!
5 things you can do to improve your blood pressure
Most of my clients use a combination of the following to normalise their blood pressure relatively quickly:
Avoid (hyper) processed foods and eat whole foods. After all, processed foods already provide us with more than 75% of our daily sodium intake!
Replace refined (fine) salt with sea salt or Himalayan salt.
Never cut back your green veggies! Leafy vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach, contain 10 to 15%, respectively, of the daily required amount of potassium per 100 grams! Use them as a counterbalance in the base for your salad, smoothie or main meal!
Toss a banana in your recovery shake. Bananas are power foods par excellence: they each contain about 10% of your RDA of potassium! An additional advantage: ripe bananas are an incredibly nutritious source of sugars with which you can quickly replenish your muscle glycogen after training. Much more nutritious as a source of sugar intake than frequently used chocolate milk!
Fast. In the trial that I did for my book (The Dr. Ludidi Method of Fasting; use discount code #DRLUDIDIMETHOD and get -15% on the book or e-Book), I investigated the effect of different forms of intermittent fasting on blood pressure among 25 people. What turned out? On average, fasting helped to lower diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by more than 4 points. This seems to indicate an improvement in the condition of smaller vessels (think of your heart, lungs and brain). Do you prefer to start fasting under my supervision? Mail me, we are ready to help y
Back to Africa. It is quite sad to see that many Africans - especially those who pose a higher risk of developing high blood pressure - are now abandoning their traditional diet and embracing a 'Western' diet. In Africa, fast food chains are popping up like mushrooms. A lot of salt, a lot of fat and a lot of sugar. Too much. Clean eating is slowly disappearing from sight. The original diet that was beneficial for maintenance of cardiovascular health and which was high in potassium, is slowly disappearing. Unfortunately, this also includes the authentic cuisine. A type of cuisine that I was fortunately able to taste from many times and that I already yearn for… Hopefully it will not last too long anymore!
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*DISCLAIMER - If you are suffering form intestinal complaints, like the ones described above, please consult a doctor to get to a valid diagnosis. Never draw conclusions based on the info you read here, because there might be a different cause for your complaints!
1. Prevalentie hypertensie in de huisartsenpraktijk 2018. Volksgezondheid en Zorg.
2. Jongen, V.W., Lalla-Edward, S.T., Vos, A.G. et al. Hypertension in a rural community in South Africa: what they know, what they think they know and what they recommend. BMC Public Health 19, 341 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6642-3
3. Silva F, Domingues FC. Antimicrobial activity of coriander oil and its effectiveness as food preservative. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Jan 2;57(1):35-47.
4. Caitlin Dow – Why shaving salt matters. Nutritionaction.com, march 8, 2017
6. Whelton P. Effects of oral potassium on blood pressure. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Send to JAMA. 1997 May 28;277(20):1624-32.