With World Salt Awareness Week happening between 16 and 22 March, there’s never been a better time to consider the amount of salt in your diet – especially given the devastating effect it can have on your health.
Salt vs. sodium
Salt is made up of two minerals, sodium (40 %) and chloride (60 %), with sodium playing an important role in several of the body’s processes: it maintains the fluid balance in our cells, contracts our muscles, transmits nerve impulses, and helps our digestive system absorb nutrients.
How much is too much?
It’s a fact that our bodies require sodium, but we need to watch our intake carefully. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults consume less than a teaspoon of salt (5 grams) per day, most of us, including children, are consuming considerably more. In fact, experts estimate that some South Africans are consuming as much as 40 grams of salt a day.
Where do we get sodium from in our diets?
Sodium comes from three major sources – salt and condiments that we add to our food during cooking or at the table, natural sources such as vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish, and processed and prepared foods such as bread, ready meals, bacon, cheese and fast foods. In the United States, a staggering 75 % of sodium consumed comes from processed food and restaurant food.
What are the effects of too much sodium on the body?
A high intake of sodium can lead to a number of severe side effects, including kidney problems and kidney stones, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and is responsible for 62 % of stroke and 49 % of coronary heart disease.
There are currently 6.3 million South Africans living with high blood pressure, with roughly 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occurring each day. But according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, up to 80 % of these cardiovascular diseases could be prevented if we changed our behaviour.
Responsible self-care isn’t simply about treating yourself with the right medication at the right time, it’s about taking charge of every aspect of your health. This includes looking at your diet, assessing things like your salt intake, and then taking steps to adjust your habits if you find that you’ve veered off track. Armed with the right information, you can proactively work at lowering your salt intake and avoiding high blood pressure and the associated cardiovascular threats.
Here are four ways you can take control of your salt intake and put yourself on the path to good cardiovascular health:
- Read the label Look at how much salt the item contains per 100 grams. More than1.5 grams of salt (0.6 grams of sodium) is high, while 0.3 grams of salt (0.1 grams of sodium) is low. If the label supplies only the sodium content, simply multiply the figure by 2.5 to get the salt content.
- Use less saltAdd less salt to your food at the table and rather than using salt to flavour your food when you’re cooking, try using herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice instead.
- Avoid processed and prepared foodsThe following foods are very high in salt and should be used sparingly: stock cubes, gravies, packet soups, cheese, many breakfast cereals, breads, salty snacks, processed meats and fast foods.
- Eat more whole foodsSodium occurs naturally in vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish, but only in small amounts, so sticking to mostly whole foods is an excellent way to help keep your levels of sodium down.