Today, according to those in the know, is ‘More Herbs, Less Salt’ Day. Another of those days that has been thought up to try and nudge us towards a slightly healthier lifestyle (much like ‘Independence from Meat’ Day, that I blogged about earlier).
Indeed, leaning towards herbs, rather than heaps of salt, to season your food is not a bad idea at all. I’m sure anyone who has opened a general lifestyle magazine in the last 10 years will know that salt isn’t all that great for our overly stressed 21st century bodies – our poor hearts already have enough to deal with. Giving the heart a further knock by subjecting it to a high salt diet really isn’t a winning idea.
There’s a significant body of research linking high sodium diets to high blood pressure, which in turn is linked to heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other nasties. Proving that a decrease in salt actually reduces the risk of heart disease has been more difficult, but a long-term research project conducted a few years ago, aimed to do exactly that. In an article entitled “Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP)”, the research team from Harvard Medical School presents their results from a long-term follow-up assessment related to a sodium-reduction, hypertension prevention study done 15 years earlier. In the original intervention, a group of adults followed a sodium reduced diet for between 18 and 48 months. From the long-term follow-up research it was found that, compared to the general population, “Risk of a cardiovascular event was 25% lower among those in the intervention group (relative risk 0.75, 95% confidence interval 0.57 to 0.99, P=0.04), adjusted for trial, clinic, age, race, and sex, and 30% lower after further adjustment for baseline sodium excretion and weight (0.70, 0.53 to 0.94), with similar results in each trial.”
This led them to the conclusion that “Sodium reduction, previously shown to lower blood pressure, may also reduce long term risk of cardiovascular events.”
To really put you off a high salt diet, a visit to World Action on Salt and Health, a website dedicated to “improve the health of populations throughout the world by achieving a gradual reduction in salt intake”, should do the trick. Just note, however, that this day (and most scientific research) calls for ‘less salt’, not ‘no salt’. As one of the primary electrolytes in the body, salt is essential for the body to function – just not at the levels that we’re consuming it.
Herbs on the other hand don’t just taste good – they’re like a veritable medicine cabinet in your garden (or pantry, if you don’t grow your own). Besides often being rich in vitamins and trace elements the body needs, specific herbs have long been known for their medicinal effects.
Herbs like chamomile and lavender is known to have a calming effect, parsley, oregano and echinacea can boost the immune system, garlic contains selenium, which can help reduce blood pressure (now there’s a good one to fight the effects of a high sodium diet!), mint and feverfew have been reported to reduce headaches, basil and bergemot fights colds and flu, lemon balm and rosemary is good for concentration and memory… The list goes on.
Of course, as with everything in life, the key is moderation – ‘more herbs’ should not be seen as a license to go overboard on every herb you can lay your hands on. Reckless and injudicious use of herbal supplements can be very detrimental to your health, to say the least. Colodaro State University hosts a nice site, Herbals for Health?, which is worth a read – it gives a balanced overview of the pro’s and cons of a few popular herbal supplements.
Despite the cautionary notes above, culinary herbs, especially freshly home-grown, generally speaking should not cause health risks when used in moderation as an alternative to salt in daily cooking, and that, after all, is what this day is all about. Using herbs in cooking can be a very exciting way to improve your health and well-being, so have fun experimenting with all those new tastes and flavours!