Emily Innes, a registered dietician in Cape Town, talks about why it's essential that you reduce your salt intake
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Why it’s essential that you reduce your salt intake

Posted by Emily on 16th March 2015 at 12:08pm

This week is ‘Salt awareness week’. The Heart and Stroke Foundation are currently running a public health education campaign called ‘Salt watch’. It is aimed at making South Africans aware of the dangers of high salt intake; the amount of salt they are consuming; and how to reduce their salt intake.

What is the link between salt and high blood pressure?

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. While sodium is an important part of our diet, too much of it can contribute to high blood pressure. Eating too much salt (and therefore sodium) can contribute to water retention. The heart then needs to work harder to pump more blood around the body, and this increases the pressure, which puts strain on the heart. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Just a small drop in blood pressure (which can be achieved by, among other things, reducing salt intake) in someone with high blood pressure, can reduce their risk of developing further heart problems.

Is high salt intake a problem in South Africa?

High blood pressure is the leading cause of death worldwide. 1 in 3 South Africans have high blood pressure. South Africa in particular has a high percentage of the population who are sensitive to salt, which means that they are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if they consume too much salt.

How much salt should I be eating?

The maximum amount of sodium we should be having each day is 2300mg, which is about 1 teaspoon. This includes salt added to food during cooking and at the table, as well as salt found in packaged and pre-prepared foods consumed.

How can I reduce my salt intake?

We get salt from our diet in one of two ways:

  1. Salt that we add to food during cooking or at the table
  2. ‘Hidden salt’ consumed in packaged and pre-prepared foods.

How to reduce salt during cooking and at the table:

  • Add salt either at the table or while cooking, not both
  • Limit intake of high salt items in cooking, such as stock cubes. Some people announce to me ‘I don’t add salt during cooking, I just use stock cubes.’ Well, bad news...stock cubes are loaded with salt! If you are going to use stock cubes, at least look out for the reduced salt ones.
  • Flavour your food naturally with garlic, onions, ginger, lemon, curry, herbs etc. instead of salt and spices that contain salt.
  • Remember that ‘herb salts’ such as ‘garlic and herb salt’ still contain salt! Just because they use the word ‘herb’ doesn’t mean that they are just herbs with no salt! Again, if you are going to use these, at least look out for the ‘reduced salt’ versions.

How to reduce salt consumed in packaged and pre-prepared foods:

  • Limit intake of take-aways such as burgers, chips, fried chicken etc. which are extremely high in salt.
  • Limit intake of junk foods such as chips and savoury biscuits which are very high in salt
  • Go for foods as close to their natural state as possible. For example...most packaged cereals will contain salt, so instead you could go for an unprocessed cereal such as oats. Sure, this food is still ‘packaged’, but it is not a processed food and doesn’t have salt added to it. (As long as you stay away from the flavoured oats! Just buy the real thing that hasn’t had anything added to it)
  • Read food labels and watch out for sneaky words, other than ‘salt’, which still indicate high salt intake. An example of a big baddie is ‘MSG’ (mono-SODIUM-glutamate)
  • Try to eat fresh foods as often as possible. If you eat tinned foods, drain the brine (salt water) and rinse the canned food item under running water to wash away excess salt.

Here’s to eating fresh foods, limiting junk food, limiting added salt, and living a healthy life with a healthy heart!