Catering to people with high blood pressure

People in the hospitality industry have customers with a lot of different dietary requirements.  High blood pressure is probably not as well known as some other conditions with specific dietary requirements, but equally as important.

As chefs, how do we cater for people with high blood pressure?

It’s estimated that about 26% of Kiwi adults have high blood pressure and more than a third of those people are unaware they have the condition. That means they can’t even warn you about their special dietary requirement when dining at your establishment.

So what should we do?

Firstly, let’s look at what it means to have high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure means your blood is moving through your blood vessels with extra force. Over time this can lead to damaged arteries and increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke. It can also damage organs like the eyes, kidneys and brain.

To cater for people with this condition, the best place to start is by looking at salt. There are many reasons people develop high blood pressure but eating a diet that’s high in salt is a well-known contributor. And for people that already have high blood pressure, a high-salt diet only compounds the problem.

About 75% of the salt we consume is from processed food products, not from salt added in the kitchen. So, chefs should be aiming to prepare as much food from scratch as possible, and not add much salt to recipes, if any at all.

This may not always be practical, so we suggest buying food products that are low in salt (sodium). When selecting foods for your service, check each product’s nutrition information panels and choose those with the lowest amount of sodium (Na) per 100g.

Of course, it’s not only those with high blood pressure that benefit from being served food with less salt in it – we all could do with a lower salt intake. Kiwis generally eat 1.5 times as much salt as we should. 

Back in hunter-gatherer days, salt wasn’t added to food; people consumed enough sodium in its naturally-occurring form. It is only in the last few thousand years that salt use has escalated, driven by the need to preserve food. 

Although our taste buds are accustomed to being inundated with salty flavours, the good news that can change. It doesn’t take long for our taste buds to get used to and even like less salty foods again.

Tips to help you produce great tasting foods with less salt:

  • Whenever possible, add salt sparingly to the outside of foods rather than mixing it through
  • Boil potatoes, pasta, rice and vegetables in water without salt
  • Reduce the salt in your recipes by 10-25%; at this level your guests are unlikely to even notice.
  • Drain and rinse all canned beans and vegetables with fresh water to remove the salty brine

Ways to boost taste without salt:

  • Season your foods with other basic taste sensations; sweet, sour, bitter and umami, using ingredients such as- vinegar, lemon juice, spices, herbs and fruits
  • Umami flavours are possibly the most important of the basic flavours when reducing salt, as umami has been shown to maintain the taste satisfaction of low-salt foods. Umami is broadly described as a savoury flavour, which can be enhanced by fermenting, pickling and roasting ingredients. Foods with a pronounced umami flavour include seaweed, mushrooms, onion, meat and fish.