mediterranean fish casserole 70213. Picture: Chris Collingridge 352

If you suffer from high blood pressure or other heart health problems, your doctor has probably recommended that you reduce the amount of salt in your diet.

I asked Naazneen Khan, a registered dietitian and nutrition, health and wellness manager at Nestlé South Africa, to explain the role of salt in our diet as well as for some guidelines on how to keep the amount of salt we eat in check.

Naazneen explained that the chemical name for table salt is sodium chloride, meaning it is made out of two parts – sodium and chloride.

The sodium part of the salt has important implications for health. Although sodium is involved in regulating the fluid balance in the body, too much can cause complications such as high blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Besides making food taste good, salt is used to preserve food and is often hidden in foods under other names such as monosodium glutamate, sodium alginate, sodium sulphite, sodium caseinate, disodium phosphate, sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide or sodium citrate. That is why it is so important to read labels when buying pre-prepared foods.

The recommended daily allowance for salt is 6g, which is just over a teaspoonful.

You may feel that food tastes bland without tons of salt sprinkled on it, but Naazneen says it is a question of retraining your taste buds.

Saltiness is actually an acquired taste. If you slowly cut back on the amount you sprinkle over your food, your taste buds will adjust accordingly.

After about three weeks, you won’t miss the salt and your taste buds will get used to the natural taste of food.

 

More tips for reducing salt in your diet

* Think fresh – most fresh foods are naturally low in sodium.

* Use spices instead of salt when cooking.

* Pay attention to condiments – they are usually very high in sodium.

* Boost your potassium intake – these will help lower your blood pressure.

* Try not to eat too many packaged or pre-prepared foods, these are high in sodium.

 

BARLEY AND ROASTED TOMATO RISOTTO

Serves 4-6

350g vine tomatoes

15ml olive oil

dried oreganum

1.2 litres of low-salt vegetable stock

30ml olive oil

1 onion, chopped

60ml white wine

500ml pearl barley

45ml chopped basil

15ml chopped thyme

60ml grated Parmesan cheese

Put the tomatoes in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over oreganum. Roast at 180ºC for 10-15 minutes until the skins start to burst. Remove and set aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer.

In another pot, heat the olive oil and fry the onion until soft. Add the wine and cook until it is evaporated. Add the barley and cook for a minute.

Add about 125ml stock and cook until absorbed. Keep adding the stock in 125ml increments, cooking each time until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.

Cook until the barley is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the tomatoes, reserving a few for garnishing.

Mix in the herbs and the Parmesan cheese.

Serve garnished with tomatoes.

* To make salt-reduced stock, use half the quantity of stock powder or liquid to the quantity of water required.

 

SPICY MEDITERRANEAN FISH CASSEROLE

Serves 4

30ml olive oil

10ml chopped garlic

1 large red onion, sliced into wedges

1-2 red chillies, seeded and chopped

1 red pepper, cut into strips

1 large bulb of fennel, thinly sliced

400g can of chopped tomatoes

125ml water

45ml chopped thyme

5ml sugar

700g firm white fish , cubed

50g black olives, drained, rinsed and pitted

Heat the oil and fry the garlic, onion and chilli until soft.

Add the pepper and fennel and fry for a few minutes.

Add the tomatoes, water, thyme and sugar and bring to a simmer.

Cook for 10 minutes until sauce has thickened.

Add the fish and olives and simmer until fish is cooked, about 5-8 minutes.

Season lightly and serve immediately.

 

SWEET POTATOES AND ROASTED BANANAS

Serves 4. These are high in potassium and will help lower blood pressure.

4 orange sweet potatoes, scrubbed

3 bananas, peeled and halved

45ml orange juice

3ml ground cinnamon

2ml ground cardamom

a pinch of nutmeg

a pinch of chilli flakes

45ml brown sugar

chopped coriander to garnish

Prick the potatoes and place on a baking tray. Roast at 180ºC for 30-40 minutes or until very soft. When cooked, cool slightly, halve and scoop out the flesh.

Place the bananas on the tray and roast them for 10-15 minutes until soft. Remove.

Add the orange juice to the pan and mash the bananas with the juice.

Add to the sweet potatoes with the spices and sugar. Mix well.

Spoon into an oven-proof dish and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until hot. Serve sprinkled with coriander.

 

APPLE AND BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

Makes 12

500ml bran-enriched self-raising flour

125ml oats

125ml unrefined white sugar

10ml ground cinnamon

125ml light olive or rapeseed oil

2 eggs

125ml skim milk

125g blueberries

1 apple, cored and diced

icing sugar for sifting

Combine the flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon and mix well.

Combine the oil, eggs and milk and stir into the dry ingredients.

Carefully fold in the blueberries and apple.

Divide the mixture between 12 paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 180ºC for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool.

Lightly sift icing sugar on muffins and serve. - The Star