As National Salt Awareness Week kicks off, it’s a good time to take a closer look at how much salt we’re actually eating. I consider myself a pretty healthy person and I try to follow a good diet, but I don’t always watch my salt intake and I was shocked when I found out how little salt we should actually be eating per day.
Salt is the major factor that increases blood pressure. Optimally our kidneys will balance the amount of sodium in our body. When sodium levels are low they will hold on to it, and when it is too high they will excrete it in our urine. But when our kidneys can’t sufficiently eliminate the excess sodium, however, it starts to build up in our blood. Since sodium attracts and holds water it causes our blood volume and the pressure in our arteries to increase.
Salt is therefore indirectly responsible for many heart attacks and strokes annually. According to a statement by Pharma Dynamics, more than 6.3 million South Africans currently suffer from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (CVD) today claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
“Although there are many risk factors, our salt intake could triple our risk of developing heart disease or stroke, ” says Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics. “Our bodies need salt to function optimally, but many of us just eat too much of it.
“SA’s salt consumption could be as high as 40g a day, which is way above the World Health Organisation’s recommended intake of less than 5 g a day. When it comes to our discretionary salt consumption, which is the amount of salt we add to food ourselves, it is as high as 40% a day. In most other Westernised countries, the discretionary use of salt is in the region of 15%.”
Van Aswegen adds that switching to a healthier diet can make all the difference. “More than 80% of heart diseases can be prevented if we consume less salt.”
So how much salt should we be eating?
According to international health guidelines, adults should try to make sure their daily intake of salt is around 5 g a day (that’s about a teaspoon) and children need even less. The daily recommended maximum for children is:
- 1 to 3 years – 2 g salt a day (0.8 g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3 g salt a day (1.2 g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5 g salt a day (2 g sodium)
- 11 and over – 6 g salt a day (2.4 g sodium)
Watch what you eat
Managing your salt intake is not as simple as adjusting your seasoning. According to the team at Pharma Dynamics approximately 75% of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy. A big culprit is processed foods especially fast foods as well as prepared dinners and processed meats.
A salty taste isn’t the only indication of sodium content, however. An article on Mayo Clinic explains that vegetables and dairy products, meat, and shellfish all contain sodium, though in small quantities. 1 cup (237 milliliters) of low-fat milk, for instance has about 100 mg of sodium.
Foods high in salt include:
- Ham, bacon, sausages, salami and other processed meats
- Canned, packet or instant soups
- Smoked meat and fish
- Gravies, yeast extracts, stock cubes, soy sauce
- Tomato sauce, mayonnaise and other sauces
- Ready-made meals and takeaways
- Some jars/packets of cooking sauce
- Salted and dry roasted nuts and crisps
It is important that we start to look at the sodium content in the foods we buy, especially prepared and canned foods, and of course cooking from scratch means we have much more control over what goes into our food.
When reading the label, you might see the sodium and not the salt content. “To do the conversion, simply multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5,” explains Van Aswegen. As a guide, remember that food low in salt contains less than 0.3 g per 100 g of the product. If it has more than 1.5 g of salt per 100 g of the food it’s high in salt and any levels between this indicate a medium amount of salt.”
Lowering salt doesn’t have to mean flavourless food. Using flavours from herbs, spices and lemon can go a long way – and actually deliver much better dishes. You can get a bunch of heart healthy recipes for free here: cookingfromtheheart.co.za
Let’s take this week and challenge ourselves. Good luck!