‘Tis the Seasoning

Salt—more specifically, sodium—is found in every food from A (anchovies) to Z (ziti). It’s essential for your body, especially your heart, but too much can raise blood pressure and put you at risk for heart disease.

Thais eat too much sodium, and farang are right behind them. Consequently, most people have either hypertension or prehypertension; lowering the amount of sodium you consume is one of the main recommendations from cardiologists, family doctors, and government agencies.

Some sodium is essential—but it amounts only to about half the salt found on a potato chip. Sodium helps regulate blood volume—how much space plasma takes up in blood vessels. The more volume, the harder the blood presses against the walls of the vessels. That’s blood pressure; it increases when you ingest excessive sodium. High blood pressure hurts the heart and circulatory system in two ways. First, the blood vessels themselves can be damaged by the extra pressure, making them more vulnerable to plaque buildup and coronary artery disease. Second, the heart has to work harder to pump blood.

The FDA recommends about 2,300 mg/day of salt, noting that the average daily intake is much higher.  Doctors usually don’t get involved in regulating sodium consumption unless someone has congestive heart failure or hypertension. So it’s up to you to be vigilant.

Read labels on packaged and processed foods (“salt” in Thai is written เกลือ). Beware any food that stays edible for a long time–anything in a can or a package, and meats like ham, bacon and pork. You also need to be careful in restaurants. Thai cooks in particular often add a lot of salt for flavor.

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