The food is excellent; everyone is praising the cook. Our Cameroon hostess is hoping to live in East Africa one day; she has a Kenyan boyfriend.
“Your rice tasted very good,” someone shrills, “what were the ingredients?”
Beaming. “I learnt that from my Swahili teacher.”
“It is Basmati rice, right?”
“What ingredients did you use?”
“Coconut and salt.”
At the mention of salt, follows a long discussion regarding dangers of sodium. Actually everything this excellent chef made has excessive salt. The chicken and duck are not only immersed and seasoned with curry, turmeric and garam masala (those great Asiatic spices) but tons of salt.
The beef and lamb are soaking and swimming in a spicy, salty stew. The salad (meshed in egg mayonnaise, steamed carrots, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cucumber) is God forbid- embroidered if not dripping in salt. Salt is the super star here! Salt decides piquancy, savour, feel, quality. Then there is chilli pepper. Pilipili. Or as they say in Spanish: picante, pimiento.
To damp the extremities of these hot flavours almost everyone across this munching table drinks some kind of liquid: fruit juice, beer, wine, water, tea. This habit of downing spicy and salty food with liquids is so common to most people –that we have come to accept it as “normal.”
Salt attracts water and liquids- the more you take it the more grief, risk and perils to your blood.
Actually, medical experts explain the habit can be troublesome to women before their periods. Not only that. According to the UK blood pressure group, surplus salt stresses the heart and may cause hypertension, stomach cancer, kidney problems, dementia, osteoporosis (a serious bone disease), asthma, blood pressure, etc.
So alarming is the rate of grave ailments caused by too much salt intake that the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially emphasizes that salt reduction should be as important as “cigarette smoking cessation.”
In 2005, WHO reported 35 million deaths globally, from chronic diseases- and 30 percent of these fatalities were due to cardiovascular problems. Eight chronic diseases, WHO cautioned, occur in low and middle income people, e.g. heart diseases, stroke and Type 2 Diabetes. Most of such patients are, of course, found in the developing world, which includes Africa and the Caribbean. In Nigeria, for instance, high blood pressure and hypertension affects at least 8 million people- about ten to twelve percent of her population, says WHO.
Last weekend, Sky News television warned that Africans and Caribbean people are being affected (and dying) as a result of high salt consumption.
The recommended daily intake of salt is supposed to be 5 grams for a person of 11 years old onwards. These measurements are prescribed by various medical groups including SACN (UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) and WHO itself. Some researchers, nevertheless, argue salt intake differ in cold and hot climates because of sweating. Athletes and manual workers should not reduce, they advice. Fact remains that many people in tropical climates eat far more salt than they should.
A research conducted in 2011 (as part of the heart campaign) led by the respected Dr Derin Balogun found that African and Caribbean cuisine made in London restaurants had excessive salt. For example 12 grams of salt was found in rice and beans, 8.6 grams in the popular West African Jollof rice and 19 grams in bread. All this is above the required 5 grams daily intake.
Speaking in Nigeria, in 2008, Dr Balogun said the death causing problem is mainly “due to very high dietary salt and fat intake, though other risk factors include obesity, low intake of fruits and vegetables and a lack of exercise.”
As for exercise, how do we carry on in a city like Dar es Salaam, filled with smoking cars, congestion, dust and polluted beaches? How does a busy working person in the former harbour of peace rove from a job premise in Tabata to have a swim at Ndege beach? How about other spacious towns: Mwanza, Arusha, Mbeya and Dodoma?
How do we change deeply entrenched habits? Personally, it took me a while to get used to eat meat and meals with little or no salt at all. I began by adding certain types of fresh herbs (e.g. garlic and soy sauce) and buying fresh vegetables instead of canned ones (usually heavily salted); this subsequently, did the trick. Many health and medical journals insist reduction of salt (like cutting cigarette smoking) contribute to prolonging your lifespan.
An alternative I have tried is having loads of fresh un-salted salads with say, a mildly salted meat stew. Otherwise, drinking more water regularly- before or after meals as opposed to consuming liquids during meals. This is not only bad for digestion but may eliminate the nutritious quality of our chakula...
Published in Citizen Tanzania....last week.