Salt: Are We Having Too Much?

  The answer is YES!

 You are sitting at a restaurant table waiting for your meal, and as soon as it is placed in front of you, you immediately try to find the salt shaker. Have you even tasted your meal to check whether it needs any salt first? Unfortunately, a huge number of people tend to do exactly that.  A high intake of salt is one of the biggest reasons why people develop hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure) and for this reason, you need to know the facts about Salt.

Salt is an electrolyte which consists of sodium and chloride and is vital for fluid balance in our body since water goes where sodium goes. The more sodium you have, the more water your body retains to dilute it. Subsequently, when water is retained, the volume of blood increases causing blood pressure to rise. Yes, we do need a little but of salt to maintain good health since it maintains the correct volume of circulating blood and tissue fluids in the body. However, ‘a little bit’ of salt is never the case nowadays, as people usually consume so much more than what they need. Apart from hypertension, excess sodium intake is also associated with a number of other conditions such as:

  • Heart failure
  • Kidney problems and kidney stones
  • Oedema (fluid retention)
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis

Two conditions that are associated with the disruption of the ‘salt-water’ balance are hypernatraemia and hyponatraemia. Hypernatraemia is a condition where salt rises in the body to critical levels over the normal range. Causes can include limited access to water or a damaged thirst mechanism. Hyponatraemia occurs when sodium levels in your blood fall below the normal range. Bear in mind that the body loses salt through urine, sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea. If too much salt is lost, the level of fluid in the blood will drop.  Severe loss of salt is more likely to occur when a person develops gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting) or water intoxication which results from drinking too much water. Both conditions, if not treated, could lead to serious health consequences.

Since the focus of this post is to mainly raise awareness on how you can reduce your salt intake, my basic dietary tips include the following:

  • Avoid products containing salt – look for the word “sodium” in the ingredients list. Examples are sodium chloride (table salt), monosodium glutamate and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
  • Choose low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods and condiments when available.
  • Choose fresh vegetables – try to limit canned/tinned vegetables
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed types.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
  • Limit cured foods (such as bacon and ham); foods packed in brine (such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut) and condiments (such as mustard, horseradish, ketchup, and barbecue sauce).
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna and canned beans, to remove some of the sodium.
  • Herbs & Spices to use instead of salt include  Basil, Bay leaves, Cardamon, chili, Coriander leaves, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, curry powder, Dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon/lime, mint, dry mustard, nutmeg, onion, oregano, paprika, parsley, saffron, tumeric

Remember that salt can be listed under a different name so reading labels on food products is important. Different names for salt are:

  • Sodium chloride
  • Vegetable salt
  • Stock cubes
  • Yeast extracts
  • Table/rock/sea salt
  • Seasoning
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) (621)
  • Baking soda/powder
  • Preservatives such as: sodium sorbate (201), sodium nitrate (251), sodium metabisulphite (223), sodium benzoate (211)

 The table below shows you what foods in each food group are high in salt:

Milk group: Cheese spread, processed cheeses
Meat group: Salty or smoked meat and fish, tinned meat, fish paste, meat extracts e.g. Bovril, Bisto and stock cubes processed meat e.g. Vienna’s, bacon, . spam, salami, sausages, meat spreads
Starch group: Salty biscuits, tinned pasta/rice
Fruit: None    
Vegetables: Tinned vegetables, vegetable extract e.g. Marmite, vegemite, vegetable stock cubes
Other: Salt, salted nuts, salted popcorn, potato crisps, chicken spices, soup powder, Worchester sauce, tomato sauce, chutney, take-away foods

When reading the nutrition information panel on food products, look for the following:

  • High salt foods have more than 400mg sodium per 100g.
  • Moderate salt foods contain 120 – 300mg sodium per 100g.
  • Low salt foods have less than 120mg per 100g.

As I always say, too much is never too good even if it is something as small as a speck. Therefore, start by making some small changes when it comes to your food additives such as salt. Protect your heart, your vessels and your kidneys from the damage that too much salt can do.

1 Comment
  1. Outstanding article it is without doubt. I have been awaiting for this info.

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