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Lucky to be alive after three strokes, Mary finally cut salt out of her diet... and says she feels much better

Just over three years ago Mary Lockhart, who lives on a farm in south Armagh, spent two months seriously ill in hospital. Now, she tells Stephanie Bell how weaning herself off salt has left her feeling healthier and full of energy

Children are eating too much salt which could lead to ill health in later life, a leading local charity has warned. The average Primary One child is consuming nearly 1g more than is recommended every day which, over a year, adds up to nearly a pound of excess salt that is contributing to the risk of stroke and heart attack in later life.

During National Salt Awareness Week, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) is calling on everyone to be more aware of the recommended levels of salt for children.

The charity says much of children's intake is hidden in processed foods, so the exact extent of the problem is hard to gauge.

While food manufacturers have reduced the level of salt in processed foods - largely as a result of pressure by health campaigners - much still needs to be done.

One third of children's salt comes from breakfast cereals and bread.

NICHS chief executive Andrew Dougal says: "Almost every food item the average child is attracted to has an unnecessarily large salt content.

"Many shop-bought pizzas are laden with it and it figures prominently in the list of ingredients in tomato ketchup. It's also in processed meats, bread and, of course, in crisps."

NICHS advises that when cooking for children of any age, it is best not to add salt to their food and to try not to add salt at the table.

Habits formed in childhood continue through to adulthood, so children can be given the best start in life by reducing their salt intake today.

Most of us eat too much salt - and medical experts say it's causing health problems like high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

A south Armagh mother-of-four has given it up completely after suffering three strokes in succession just before Christmas 2011.

Mary Lockhart says she is lucky to be alive. She spent two months in hospital after losing her speech and power in the right side of her body.

Her speech returned, but her physical problems were made worse when she fell and broke her hip. It took her three years to accept that she would always have some physical disability.

It is only six weeks ago that Mary finally weaned herself off salt and also decided to cut down drastically on sugar. She says she feels like a different person.

She says: "In the past, I would add salt to my food and even have extra at the side of the plate. Today, I had a ham salad for lunch and couldn't stand the taste of salt in the meat. I can even taste it in a fruit soda these days. It's amazing how much of it is hidden in our food."

Mary (63), who lives in Mulladuff near the border, has been in charge of the family farm since her husband died suddenly 15 years ago.

It was once home to 100 cattle, but she now has just 13. She still attends cattle sales and buys antiques, but she says her return to some semblance of an active life - and her change of diet - is down to her attendance at NI Chest Heart & Stroke's stroke support group in Newry.

The charity is advising people to follow Mary's example and reduce their salt intake.

Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but many of us consume 12g.

Children should eat no more than 5g, but a great deal of the processed food they eat - from pizzas to breakfast cereal - has "hidden" salt.

The advice is to check food labels carefully before buying.

Mary says: "If I'd known half of what I know now, I'd have been off salt and sugar years ago. I feel a real difference in my body, as if the impurities have been washed out.

"I also eat a lot more vegetables than I did. I have a lot more stamina and can do far more work than I could before. I would recommend it to anyone."

Mary's eldest daughter, Beulah, works in London. She's looking forward to her next visit home to see if she notices the difference the new healthy eating regime has made in her mum.

Mary also has advice for anyone who's suffered a stroke: "I've learned that sitting around is the worst thing you can do," she says. "Believe me, I've tried it.

"Sitting in the house only brings you down. Even if I just go out and talk to the cattle, it makes me feel better.

"But if you really want to feel better, cut down on salt, cut out sweet things and eat more vegetables. In the last six weeks, I feel like a different person."

 

The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:

  • one to three years - 2g salt a day
  • four to six years - 3g salt a day
  • seven to 10 years - 5g salt a day
  • 11 years and over - 6g salt a day
  • Cutting back on added salt is only a small part of the solution - 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals
  • To really cut down, you need to become aware of the salt that is already in the everyday foods you buy, and choose lower-salt options
  • Nutrition labels on food packaging now make this a lot easier. Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging
  • Many foods also display information about the salt content on the front of the packaging. This may show the salt content as a percentage of your reference intake (RI), or have colour-coded nutrition information to show whether the food is low, medium or high in salt
  • Where colour-coding is used, red means high. Eat these foods as an occasional treat, and aim to eat mainly foods that are green (low) or amber (medium)

Look at the figure for salt per 100g:

High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (0.6g sodium).

Medium is between 0.3g and 1.5g salt per 100g.

Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g.

  • When shopping for food, you can take steps to cut your salt intake:
  •  Compare nutrition labels on food packaging when buying everyday items. You can really cut your salt intake by checking the label and choosing the pizza, ketchup or breakfast cereal that's lower in salt. Try choosing one food a week to check and swap when you're food shopping
  • Go for reduced-salt, unsmoked back bacon. Cured meats and fish can be high in salt, so try to eat these less often
  • Buy tinned vegetables without added salt. Do the same with tinned pulses
  • Watch out for the salt content in ready-made pasta sauces. Tomato-based sauces are often lower in salt than cheesy sauces or those containing olives, bacon or ham
  • For healthier snacks, choose fruit or vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks. If you are going to have crisps or crackers, check the label and choose the ones lower in salt
  • Go easy on soy sauce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt

 

This chicken curry contains no added salt. The flavour is from the tomato puree, which contains a total of 0.05g of salt to each person's portion. The recipe also contains three of your daily portions of fruit and veg.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 large tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsps tomato puree

2 medium chillis, chopped - to add flavour rather than using salt

2 tsps of curry powder - to add flavour rather than using salt

4 tbsps water

4 chicken breasts, chopped

2 tbsp yoghurt

4 handfuls of brown rice

300g cauliflower

Method (Serves 4)

Heat the oil and fry the onions until soft.

Add garlic, tomato, tomato puree, chopped chilli and curry powder.

Cook for a few minutes and then add two tablespoons of water and allow to reduce.

Add chicken and cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat, then add the yoghurt, stirring slowly.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Boil the rice following the cooking instructions on the packet.

Boil the cauliflower until tender.

Serve with rice and cauliflower.

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