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ON THE OTHER HAND: Strokes, salt, sex

Peter Laurie

ON THE OTHER HAND: Strokes, salt, sex

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Let’s start with strokes.
I was amazed to discover from Professor Clive Landis of the Chronic Disease Research Centre that more people have strokes than heart attacks in Barbados.
Even more startling is that 50 per cent – yes,  50 per cent – of adult Bajans suffer from high blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of strokes. We have one of the highest rates in the world.
And now for salt.
Salt is a killer. If you eat too much salt, your kidneys can’t excrete enough of it when you pee, so it remains in your bloodstream. Salt attracts water. Too much salt in the blood  draws in more water. This increases the volume of blood. The walls of your blood vessels react to this stress by thickening and narrowing, leaving less space and requiring higher pressure to move blood to the organs. The heart has to pump harder against this high pressure system.  
Something has to give. Either the heart will stop or the blood vessels will burst. Take your pick. How do you want to go? Heart attack or stroke?
Now listen to this. Most Bajans consume not only more than the recommended daily intake (1.5 grammes) of salt, but more than the upper tolerable limit of 2.3 grammes a day.  We grown-ups gobble down an average of three grammes of salt every day!
Couple this with the fact that people of West African descent, like most Bajans, are genetically predisposed to hypertension and we have a time bomb waiting to explode.
My fear is that in no time most of us will be dropping like flies.
Where does this salt in our diet come from? In addition to the usual culprits like processed meats and canned foods, a major source of unnecessary salt in our diet comes from our habit of routinely marinating fresh fish and meat with lime and salt, and from using bottled green seasoning that is loaded with salt. In addition, we routinely put salt meat or salted pigtails in “cook up” rice pots and soups.  
So what can we do?
Here are some things we can do without totally disrupting our lives.
Use fresh fruit and vegetables rather than canned. Buy lots of tomatoes when they are below $2 a pound, freeze them whole and use them in cooking. Use dried peas and beans rather than canned peas. For example, one brand of pigeon peas I bought at the supermarket contains, according to the label, 550 milligrammes of sodium or 23 per cent of the daily value!
Sweet potatoes are one of the most healthy and cheap vegetables: also good for diabetics.
Eat fresh fish and meats.
Go easy on the pigtails and salt fish. Use them as a monthly treat.
Eat low-sodium bread and biscuits and unsalted butter.
Check the labels of processed food and avoid those that are high in salt. Watch out for bottled  green seasoning; it’s loaded with salt (except for diabetic seasoning which is salt-free). Better still, use fresh green seasoning without salt.
Go real easy on bacon, ham, sausages, corned beef, canned tuna, ketchup, potato chips and cheese.
Choose your cereal carefully. Many are loaded with totally unnecessary salt. Some have no salt.
Ask the Barbados Association of Retired Persons to take the lead in pressuring:
a) local food processors of drinks, bread, biscuits, green seasoning and so on, to reduce the salt they put in or leave it out altogether;
b) supermarkets to stock and display prominently more low-sodium items; and
c) local fast food outlets to reduce the salt in the food. Let us choose how much to add.
Another cause of hypertension is stress. Avoid it.
Finally, sex.
The Mighty Sparrow sang of sex as a (w)holesome source of salt. I don’t know what he was talking about.
In addition, exercise is the best thing you can do. So, 40 minutes’ brisk walking a day; and here’re some fantastic sexual . . . .
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