Cape Town - Like many South Africans, Laurentia Frans enjoyed her salt. She relished it in her take-aways and deemed a plate of hot chips incomplete without heaps shaken over it.
Then the strokes struck, the first one at the age of 29, and then another in January. The last one caught the dentist from Atlantis, outside Cape Town, off guard.
Frans, who traces a history of hypertension in her family, has completely cut out salt now. “I won’t touch salty food on my plate. My husband has had to do the same because we all eat from the same pot. We’ve had to change our lives. I know what I have to do to prevent a stroke again – you are what you eat.”
Frans is one of more than six million people in SA suffering from hypertension and health authorities believe that salt is one of the biggest culprits in the rise of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
SA is a salt loving nation, with its citizens consuming twice as much salt as they should, with an average daily intake of 7.8g among black people, 8.5g among those of mixed race, and 9.8g among whites. Consider that the World Health Organisation recommends a daily intake of a teaspoon of salt.
But most often processed foods are the main source of salt consumption rather than what is added at the table. That’s why the Department of Health has prepared draft amendments to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, published in the Government Gazette, earlier this month, that gives food makers until 2016 and 2018 to curb the salt content in their products.
And it’s the hidden salt on the government’s food hit list, including bread, milk, butter spreads, snacks, breakfast cereals and processed meats, that need to be curbed.
The amount of salt in bread, in particular, came as a shock to Professor Karen Hofman of the Medical Research Council’s Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Unit.
Together with a team of Wits academics, Professor Krisela Steyn from the University of Cape Town and nutritionist Edelweiss Wentzel Viljoen from the University of Northwest, she worked closely with government policy makers on the draft regulations.
Their research showed how bread and salt formed a potentially deadly combination in South Africans’ diet. Salt affects systolic blood pressure, which in turn is strongly linked to cardio-vascular disease and mortality. Bread is responsible for about 40 percent of salt intake in SA with an average sodium content of about 650mg per 100g.
“The thing about salt (in bread) is that it was added gradually over a decade,” she explains..”
But the food manufacturing industry, according to Hofman, is “totally engaged” with reducing the salt content of their food. And although bread prices could go up a cent or two, “we have to ask what the savings in terms of health are”.
Children were particularly at risk because they didn’t control what they were eating.
“People believe salt makes their food more tasty but you can enjoy food that is not salty.” - Sunday Argus
Have better labelling, warn cancer experts
Better “traffic light” food labelling is needed to reduce the number of stomach cancers linked to salt, experts say.
Too much salt is believed to promote cancer by damaging the stomach lining.
An estimated 14 percent of stomach cancers in the UK – one in seven cases – could be avoided by reducing salt intake to recommended levels, it is claimed.
People in the UK consume an average of 8.6g daily, much of it hidden in processed food.
This is 43 percent higher than the maximum recommended amount of 6g, equivalent to one level teaspoonful.
A standardised form of colour-coded “traffic light” food labelling would help consumers monitor their consumption of salt, sugar and fat, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.
Kate Mendoza, head of information at the charity, said: “Stomach cancer is difficult to treat successfully, because most cases are not caught until the disease is well-established.
“This places even greater emphasis on making lifestyle choices to prevent the disease occurring in the first place – such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables.”
The fund would like to see labelling on food and drink packaging to give guidance on levels of salt.
“Standardised labelling among retailers and manufacturers – rather than the different voluntary systems currently in place – would help consumers make better-informed and healthy choices.” – Belfast Telegraph