Please pass the salt. This is a common request during meal-times. There are people whose meals are not tasty enough without additional salt.
Interestingly, some add salt to food without first tasting it in the belief that the cook habitually seasons food with very little. Are you one of them?
According to a communiqué issued by the World Health Organisation last week, salt consumption raises blood pressure, causes hypertension, and increases the risk of premature death.
In fact, high salt intake is associated with significantly increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases.
The main reason for the use of salt is flavour, texture and preservation. In the African traditional setting, too much salt was said to lead to pain in the knee-joints, thus making movement difficult, but so far no medical research has supported this idea propagated by our grandmothers.
But our grandmothers could have been right. Not about the effect of salt on the knee-joints though, but the fact is that too much salt has proved to be dangerous to the heart because it increases pressure.
A cardiologist I interviewed pointed out that salt is a worse trigger of high blood pressure than obesity, diabetes, and excess alcohol combined.
Back in history, so rare was salt that it was used as currency in the trans-Saharan gold trade in the 7-14th centuries. Although the supply of salt was sufficient in sub-Saharan Africa, the consumption of Saharan salt was promoted for trade.
The alarm about the salt-intake-hypertension relationship was first raised in 1904 when French doctors reported that six of their subjects had high blood pressure.
Sadly, Kenya lacks data on salt consumption, making it difficult to know the risk of the population developing hypertension triggered by high salt diets.
Such crucial data would be used to draw public health programmes aimed at raising awareness on the issue.
Nutritionists advise that you should spice up your food with herbs, spices and vinegars. They also prefer cooking methods that preserve flavour such as steaming, roasting or baking.
Few Kenyans pay attention to information labels on processed foods, which are another source of salt, yet 75 per cent of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals.
You are advised to choose products with sodium content no higher than 120 mg/100g. International recommendations suggest that average population salt intake should be less than five to six grammes per day.
It is a scientific fact that salt in food is an acquired taste, and thus the taste buds can be “trained” to become used to a wide range of salt levels in food, or none at all.
How about boiling food? Boiling can result in loss of potassium and flavour, which may entice you to add salt after cooking.
Maybe it’s time we went back to what nutritionists refer to as “natural diet” of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts, together with lean fresh meat and/or fish.
Are you prepared to remove salt from kitchen shelves and dining tables? Let hypertension not prompt you to do so.
Ms Muraya is a health journalist, Daily Nation and a second year Master of Public Health student at Moi University.