Nutritional Advice on Reducing Salt Intake

March 16, 2017


World Salt Awareness Week is celebrated annually from 16th – 22nd March.  The theme for this year’s campaign is “Salt: The Forgotten Killer”.  An apt campaign title as I am convinced a lot of what we do with regards to our diet (the foods we choose to fuel our bodies with) is because we are either misinformed or just don’t know and in this case, we have ignored the salt concerns for too long and the devastating effects too much of it can have.  BUT, when we do know, we should always strive to do better.

But, back to Salt Awareness Week.  So – why all the hype about salt…a simple sodium-chloride molecule we add to our food when cooking, we read about it recipes and see chef’s on the food network channel using in every meal – how can this little ingredient be so bad? Well, in short it isn’t bad – it is just overused AND unfortunately hidden in SO many foods that we are unaware just how much extra we are consuming as a nation every day.  Did you know that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends we have only 5mg salt per day (that’s about  2000mg sodium – stick with me, I will get into this) AND do you know that on average South African’s have on average between 6-11 g salt per day – that’s double the recommended amount?!  It is no wonder we have some of the highest rates of hypertension (high blood pressure) in the world.  But now I hear you asking, that is impossible, I do not use thaaat much in my cooking.  Well, you probably don’t BUT you might be getting it in sneaky hidden forms.

Foods highest in hidden salt (and sodium) are things like processed meats (polony, ham, viennas, sausages, Russians etc), bread, cheese, pizza, chicken (the brined one) and soup packets and often sandwiches made with these products (bread & cheese & cure meat).  These are known as the salty six and we should endeavour to reduce the use of these products in our diets urgently.    Other foods high in salt are gravy powders, stock cubes and chips.  Thankfully our South African government is protecting the public by having instituted laws governing the levels of salt allowed in certain food products by June 2016 which means we still need to address our salt levels at home and ensure we prepare healthy meals.  So, some other ways of sodium (and salt) reduction:

  1. Cook with less salt – a slow and gradual reduction of salt will allow your and your family’s taste buds to not notice the difference.
  2. Cook with more herbs, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, spices, vinegar and chilli to add more flavour.
  3. Prepare home cooked meals means you always know what ingredients are inside.
  4. Leave the salt shaker off the table – less temptation to reach forward and salt your food (often done without even tasting it).
  5. Read the food label – an amazing tool given to us as consumers to know what is inside the food we’ve just chosen to purchase. Look at sodium per 100g and aim for less than 100mg sodium. If you notice 600mg sodium – that is too high.  To calculate the salt content, multiply the sodium by 0.0025.
  6. Look out for the heart & stroke foundation mark on products and even on restaurant menus for a food that is lower in sodium and fat.

Ok, so previously I mentioned 5g of salt and made mention of sodium – well here is more information on the two.  Salt is made up of two minerals sodium and chloride.  Sodium is needed by the body and plays an important role in several of the body’s processes: it maintains the fluid balance in our cells, contracts muscles, transmits nerve impulses, and helps the digestive system absorb nutrients.  So you can see we need it – just not too much.  Too much sodium (from salt) raises blood pressure, leading to strokes and heart attacks.

As you can see, the choices we make today affect the health of our heart tomorrow and if you have children – will affect their future health as food choices today governs their food choices as adults.  So choose wisely and be heart smart.

Some action pointsget your blood pressure checked and if you do need any assistance with your diet – speak to a Registered Dietitian (for a list of one in your area click here).  But make a heart commitment to using a “pinch” less salt.

For more information check out these websites:

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