Your body needs salt to survive, but only a small amount – 5 grams (about a teaspoon) a day, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) and Cancer Association of SA (CANSA) endorse that. Here’s why.
Salt is composed of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, and most people’s kidneys struggle to deal with excess sodium. When this accumulates, your body holds on to water to dilute it, which increases your volume of blood, making your heart work harder and exerting more pressure on your blood vessels. In time this can result in high blood pressure, a heart attack or a stroke.
It can also lead to swelling of your feet, knees and hands (oedema) as you retain water, and cause damage to your kidneys. It’s even been linked to a raised risk of stomach cancer and cancer of the small intestine, says CANSA health specialist Professor Michael Herbst.
Tips to help you cut back on salt
Stop adding salt to food
When preparing food, cut back on the amount you use. Create flavour instead with herbs and spices such as rosemary, oregano, basil, ginger, black or cayenne pepper, curry powder and chili, along with lemon, vinegar, onion, fresh garlic or garlic powder (not garlic salt), suggests Prof Herbst. It will train your taste buds to relish less salty food.
Read food labels
Look for lower sodium choices and compare sodium in different brands of food, then select the lowest.
Keep an eye out for salt water or saline
When buying fresh meat or poultry, check to see if salt water or saline has been added. If using canned vegetables, opt for “low sodium” or “no-salt-added” varieties. Rinse those containing sodium (such as tuna, vegetables and beans) before using.
Avoid or limit your family’s consumption of high-salt foods
This includes processed meats such as bacon, salami, ham and viennas, smoked meats and fish like anchovies, cheese, pickles, olives, soya sauce, stock cubes, gravy granules, yeast extract, most breakfast cereals and prepared foods, crisps sauces and condiments (including tomato sauce, mayonnaise).
If you must use stock, gravy or soup cubes, or barbecue or fish spices, which are usually very salty, use them sparingly and don’t add salt as well.
Stash the salty snacks
Opt for unsalted nuts and seeds or fresh carrot and celery sticks as snacks rather than chips, pretzels and other salty treats, advises Herbst.
Be particularly mindful of salt in baby food
Take special care when preparing baby food, as salt can harm a baby’s developing kidneys; children should have not more than half a teaspoon of salt a day until around age 6.
Taste before you add salt
Encourage your family to taste food first, and not automatically reach for the salt – a common habit. Better yet, remove the salt shaker from the table, advises the HSFSA.
Make salt smart choices when eating out
If eating out, remember that Eastern cuisine can be especially high in salt because of the liberal use of soya and fish sauces and salt-preserved foods.
Don't forget about salt in your medication
If you’ve been advised to cut back on salt, consider changing from effervescent vitamin supplements or painkillers, which can contain up to a gram of salt per tablet. Speak to your Clicks pharmacist for advice.
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