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Family Life

Turn back the SALT

If your family members have a history of hypertension, eating right becomes not just a matter of taste but of their safety.
But given Singapore’s love for eating out, we may be a nation with a substance abuse problem: the substance in question being salt. Sadly high-sodium diets are a high risk factor for developing hypertension.

A high sodium diet is probably why roughly 15% of us have hypertension. Of that, less than half of us know we have it, and eventually, 1 in 5 Singaporeans is estimated to suffer a stroke due to hypertension.

High blood pressure?

A Blood Pressure (BP) of 120/80 is considered normal, while a BP of 140/90 is considered high. And at 170 or 180, the risks of a stroke are eminent.

But before hypertension, there’s also a condition called prehypertension. And this is where the most preventive gains can be made when it comes to home cooking.


Prehypertension is considered to be blood pressure readings with a systolic pressure from 120 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure from 80 to 89 mm Hg. By this definition, many more of us may actually be prehypertensive than officially estimated.

While a primary risk factor for prehypertension is being overweight, other risk factors include a family history of hypertension, a sedentary lifestyle, eating high fat foods, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and of course, high sodium diets.

Cooking to avoid prehypertension

A low sodium, high potassium diet is thought to be best in managing prehypertension or hypertension.

Foods rich in potassium include orange juice, potatoes, bananas, avocados, cantaloupes, tomatoes, broccoli, soybeans, brown rice, garlic and apricots, although it is also abundant in most fruits, vegetables and meats.

How about cutting out the fat and sodium? It’s easy if you consider that there’s also sweet, bitter, sour , and umami flavours you can include in your home cooking, to replace salt.

Lowering fat

If you buy fresh ingredients but then fry them in grease, it defeats the purpose of buying healthy items in the first place. Try these simple, healthy steps to prepare food:

  • Roast meats and chicken on racks so that fat can drip off.
  • Use non-stick cookware and a little cooking spray to sauté foods.
  • Stew or braise meats and poultry on the stove or in your oven. Then cool the food so that you can remove any congealed fat before reheating and serving.
  • Poach fish and chicken in fat-free liquids.
  • Broil or grill just about any meat, poultry, or vegetable and let the fat drip off.
  • Steam all kinds of foods over boiling water.

Increasing other flavours

With the amplification of the other four taste sensations, your hypertensive or pre-hypertensive family member may not even notice that his diet is now low in sodium. Try these techniques:

  • Use a low-sodium soy sauce.
    Cooking wine, including rice wine, that is sold in food stores has been treated with salt, both to give it a longer shelf life and prevent it from being sold as alcohol. Use dry sherry or dry white wine instead.
  • When a recipe calls for chicken or beef broth, make your own broth. Homemade broths have more flavour and can be frozen for up to 3 months.
  • When a recipe calls for peanuts or cashews, use unsalted nuts.
  • Use fresh vegetables whenever possible.
  • If you are using canned vegetables that contain salt, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water to remove some of the sodium.

As for preparing recipes with meat, use seasoning such as five-spice powder, curry powder, and chili powder. Herbs too can do wonders for spicing up your cooking:

  • Basil (fresh or dried) can be used with fish, lean meats, and in soups and sauces.
  • Thyme gives an earthy taste to sauces and soups.
  • Caraway seeds lend a nutty taste to breads, steamed cabbage, and noodles.
  • Chives add bite to salads and vegetables.
  • Rosemary works well in hearty dishes like meatloaf, potatoes, and beans.
  • Cider vinegar provides tang to sauces and vegetables.
  • Turmeric is great on rice with a flavor and color similar to saffron.
  • Cinnamon is tasty on many fruits.
  • Curry powder gives lean meats, particularly lamb, an exotic taste.
  • Dill is great in sauces or tossed on just about any vegetable.
  • Garlic adds another dimension of flavor to just about any savory food — be sure not to use garlic salt.
  • Bay leaves work well with soups and stews.
  • Lemon juice enhances the flavor of salads, vegetables, and fish.
  • Paprika gives a spicy kick to roasted meats and vegetables.
  • Sage can be a savory addition to stews, biscuits, and lean pork.
  • Peppermint and other extracts lend extra flavor to fruit and pudding.

Other ways to manage prehypertension

Home monitoring of blood pressure, using a blood pressure monitor from a trusted brand like Omron, can enable you to discover prehypertension in yourself or a family member before a doctor does.

Monitoring at home or work at regular times each day will also help to rule out fluctuations in blood pressure levels caused by stress or hormones.

And of course home monitoring will tell you when it is vital to start employing all the wonderful home cooking tips served up in this article. LW

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