Eleven million deaths worldwide in 2017 were linked to people eating poor diets high in sugar, salt and processed meat that contributed to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, according to a global study. It was published by The Lancet and reported recently by the media around the world.

The problem isn’t salt and sugar as such. They have numerous uses and benefits. However, they are harmful when taken in excess. Given that more and more people are catching serious diseases today, it’s vital to ask ourselves if we’re consuming salt and sugar in the right amount or if we’re consuming them more than necessary.

In Mauritius, people are used to eating “dholpuri”, “roti”, “tipouri”, noodles, fried rice, salty cakes like “samousa”, “gato piman”, “gato brinzel”, “bhajia”, “dipin frir”, “chana puri” and “piman kari”. People also like peanuts, processed foods, chips, snacks and burgers as well as biryani. All of them are salt-based. It’s usual to eat goyaves de Chine or pineapples with salt mixed with chillies. Are people consuming salt within the limit imposed by the World Health Organisation? Even home-made food isn’t all that safe when we consider that, in general, rice, bread or “farata” are accompanied by several curries plus chutney. In other words, the more curries one eats, the more salt one is consuming. Besides, cakes are oily. This is another real hazard. We could also go easy on salted fish.

Complications from hypertension affect the heart, the kidneys and can even cause a stroke. One way to control hypertension is to curb salt intake. The World Health Organisation notes that “Salt intake of less than 5 grams for adults helps to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack. The principal benefit of lowering salt intake is a corresponding reduction in high blood pressure.”

Salt, being present in the various foods available to us, is inevitable. But each person can make an effort to control the amount he takes. One can diminish, over time, the amount by replacing it with herbs, spices, garlic or citrus to flavour the food, as suggested by WHO. Another idea is to take salt off the table so that younger family members don’t get access to it. I think mothers can subtly decrease the quantity gradually. The consumer will not notice it. Once he gets used to the decreased amount, he won’t look for more.

We hear people in the media talking about good nutrition to consumers but are we doing enough to sensitize catering outlets, sellers of “dholpuri” or cakes to control the salt in their products? The other day, in a casual conversation, a “dholpuri” and “roti” merchant was telling me that he’s perfectly aware that excess salt can cause irreversible damage but if he diminished the salt, he would lose his clients. There’s demand for tasty food and he’s there to supply. So, awareness programmes must touch the consumers as well as the sellers or manufacturers.

Pathway to heart disease

We’ve a ready market for sweet cakes – “laddoo”, “khaja”, “boondia”, “barfi”, “jalebi”, “rasgoola”, “idli”, “kolkote”, “tekwa”, “ti puri-kheer”, “gulab jamoon” and “gato mootai”. It’s a custom for parents, when they visit the market, to purchase sweet cakes, chocolates or such treats for the family. Invitees are offered cakes after a marriage ceremony. Pastries are also greatly appreciated. But they’re addictive. One develops a craving for them.

Sugar in excess is detrimental to the health. In May, 2017, Harvard Health Online published an article “The sweet danger of sugar”. The message, in a nutshell, was that “Consuming too much sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.”

Excess sugar tends to accelerate ageing and is responsible for tooth decay. Therefore, eating and drinking beverages with precaution is the best education we can impart to the young and adults alike. Why take more salt or sugar in a day when a pinch will do? Good eating habits must begin at home.

Salt and sugar in excess are slow killers. Parents would do well to keep an eye on how much of these substances their children are consuming in the course of a day because they’re at risk of being affected in the long run.