Look out for the hidden salt and sugar in your diet

Reduce your risk of ‘lifestyle’ diseases by steering clear of hidden salt and sugar.

04 August 2015
by The Clicks health team

Hidden salt and sugar in convenience foods has drastically increased our daily consumption of each. Both are linked to an increased risk of developing non-communicable ‘lifestyle’ diseases like high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes.

Learn more about their impact on your health here, the main foodstuff culprits, and what to cut back on.

1. Salt

Our bodies need sodium (the mineral making up 40 percent of salt) to transmit nerve impulses, maintain the balance of fluids and keep muscles functioning, but 1.25g (a quarter teaspoon) a day is enough, says Jessica Bacon, registered dietician at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

Salt’s impact on health:

  • Excess salt can cause high blood pressure (hypertension), which could lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • It is linked to obesity, stomach cancer, and can worsen the symptoms of asthma.

Quantity and culprits:

  • Limit salt intake to a maximum of 5g (one teaspoon) a day, including salt added to meals and in processed foods.
  • Most South Africans consume too much salt – 6 to 11g – a day, of which more than half come from hidden sources. Top culprits include breads, cereals, hard margarine, processed meat products, gravy and soup powders, meat and vegetable extracts, and convenience foods.

Are all salts equal?
Rock salt, sea salt, kosher salt and Himalayan salt are as high in sodium as ordinary table salt, says Bacon. Although they contain trace amounts of other minerals (magnesium and potassium), the amounts are so small that they’re unlikely to offer health benefits.

Salt Watch
Salt Watch is a public awareness and education campaign to reduce salt consumption in SA, and is coordinated by the HSF and supported by the Department of Health.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has signed legislation forcing manufacturers to limit the amount of salt in the top contributors to salt intake. Reductions needs to be made by 2016 and further reductions by 2019.

2. Sugar

Naturally-occurring sugars are found in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), while added (hidden) sugars occur in soft drinks, dairy products and cereals that are sweetened, confectionery, chocolates and sweets, as well as what’s added to tea, coffee or cereal.

Sugar’s impact on health:
Sugar (sucrose) is made of glucose and fructose. It quickly breaks down and the glucose is speedily absorbed into the blood, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. A high intake of added sugar contributes to obesity, leading to an increased risk of developing ‘lifestyle’ diseases.


  • Since sugar only provides energy and no other nutrients, we can eliminate it from our diets without causing nutritional deficiencies.
  • The recommended limit is 11 teaspoons a day, which is the amount in one 350ml sweetened beverage. This limit includes sugar from all sources, including processed foods, drinks and ‘added’ sugar.

7 ways to cut back on salt and sugar

  1. Read labels on products and avoid those where sugar (including sucrose or anything ending in –ose, corn syrup or cane sugar) and/or salt (including NaCl or sodium) are among the top three ingredients.
  2. Avoid processed and convenience foods.
  3. “Choose products with the Heart Mark,” says Bacon. They are lower in salt and sugar, saturated, trans fats and cholesterol, plus are higher in fibre (where applicable).
  4. If using salt or sugar in food preparation, do not add at the table.
  5. Use herbs, spices and lemon juice instead of salty seasonings.
  6. Drink water instead of sugary drinks and add less – or no – sugar to hot drinks.
  7. Reserve salty or sweet treats for special occasions.


IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com