Heart health: I gave up salt
When Bettina Wallace, a 60-year-old grandmother from Nottingham, was diagnosed with high blood pressure, she decided to get proactive. Now, thanks to some gentle exercise and a salt-free diet, she's feeling better than ever.
Bettina Wallace has a family history of hypertension (high blood pressure) and all too aware of the health problems it has caused for her mother and maternal grandmother. So, when Bettina went to her family doctor some six years ago with frequent headaches, she was shocked to hear that they were being caused by high blood pressure.
“It kind of devastated me, because I saw how it debilitated my grandmother in the Caribbean,” says Bettina. “My doctor recommended some medication because my blood pressure reading was off the wall. I was also given diet sheets and other information, but I just carried on with things and thought I wasn't going to let it ruin my life.”
Over the intervening years, Bettina was put on a number of different types of medication for hypertension. She'd even started monitoring her blood pressure at home, but nothing seemed to be bringing it down.
“I was making changes,” she says, “but it wasn't until about a year ago, when I got involved with doing some voluntary work with the British Heart Foundation, that I decided to cut out salt completely.
Eating too much salt is a known risk factor for hypertension. Other factors include being of African-Caribbean descent and having a family history of high blood pressure.
“I think giving up salt has been a crucial thing,” says Bettina, who now uses chilli and clever spicing to add flavour at mealtimes. “In Afro-Caribbean cooking we cook a lot with spices, but we do like salt. I just cut it out completely and I have noticed the difference.”
Making positive changes
Through her volunteer work with the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Bettina has been encouraging local community groups to try salt-free cooking for themselves, using the charity's healthy recipe book.
Exercise is has proved another milestone on the road back to health. Bettina has joined a reggae-aerobics class run by the BHF and now tries to walk to the shops instead of driving.
“I don't feel so sluggish and I feel that I can do what I want to do,” she says. “But the be-all and end-all is that I don't have the headaches– to me that is the most important thing.”
Now Bettina is keen to spread the word about looking after your heart and is encouraging women in her church group to reduce their salt consumption, too. “I really got involved and I was saying to people, 'Come on, I'm not the fittest person in the world, but if I can make little changes so can you'. I would say just take it one minuscule step at a time.”
Visit the British Heart Foundation for more about heart disease, heart health, a heart-healthy diet and the community projects mentioned in this article.
You can also find out more about healthy hearts on the benenden health website. If you are worried about your health, or if you have hypertension or a heart condition and have a question about your treatment and/or medication, make an appointment to see your doctor. Members of benenden health may also call the 24-hour GP advice line.