The Department of Health’s recent legislation will see the regulation of sodium, an ingredient of salt, in a range of products.
These include bread, snacks, processed meat, dry soups/gravy powders and instant noodles.
One of the nine voluntary global non-communicable disease targets set by the World Health Organisation for 2025 is the reduction of sodium intake by 30%.
Dr Suna Kassier, registered dietitian at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says while regulating salt in some of these categories (like staples) can contribute to the consumption of a healthier diet, education on the impact of high salt snack foods, processed meats and dried instant soups powders/gravy in the context of a healthy eating plan is essential. “An important message to the public should be the appropriate use of high salt products.”
At a point in history salt was valuable enough to be used as currency.
Without refrigeration, it was the key to the preservation of food.
Salt was taxed by governments such as the ancient Chinese and Romans and was even said to have been traded ounce for ounce with gold.
Kassier explains that salt, NaCl, enters the blood stream and therefore cannot be measured in a particular organ in the body.
“The components of salts are electrolytes which go into the blood stream and then travel to various parts of the body.
“However, studies show that there is a definite relationship between the consumption of salt in large quantities and high blood pressure, which is a key risk factor for many non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
Kassier says we also know from research that some individuals are more salt sensitive than others.
“We cannot predict who these people are, so blanket recommendations are offered for everyone.
“Despite the fact that a salt consumption of less than 5 grams a day, equal to one level teaspoon of table salt or 2000 milligrams of sodium is recommended, many South Africans consume between six and 11 grams of salt a day.
“Depending on the cut-off levels used to diagnose high blood pressure, it is estimated that up to 6 million South Africans are hypertensive. In addition, it is not a condition reserved for adults or the elderly, as 10% of South African children are also hypertensive.
“Do not add salt to baby food. It is important to note that salt intake for children increases with the introduction of table foods and cow’s milk. Their taste buds should not be accustomed to salt, so avoid adding it. If they are eating what their parents are, by the time they are adults they will want more. Salt may damage their kidneys in the long run and today, doctors can actually gauge adolescent blood pressure levels based on childhood intake.
Our statistics for consuming salt are also not numbers to be proud of, as we are a salt-loving nation.
“A high sodium intake is not only related to the consumption of bread, processed foods such as takeaways and salty snacks. It also hides in instant breakfast cereals, pickles, olives and bacon.”
She says food that isn’t prepared at home is quite simply not in your control.
“Always taste these foods first, before you add salt.
Some processed foods, don’t taste salty, but are high in sodium – these include sauces and butter.
“On labels, salts, sodium, sodium chloride or the chemical name: NaCl and Msg (Monosodium glutamate) all refer to relatively the same thing.”
Kassier says while salt may not directly cause weight gain, it will cause thirst and, depending on what you consume to quench that thirst, can cause you to pile on the pounds.
Salt-laden foods include:
* Takeaways such as cheeseburgers and chips.
* Instant and canned soups, stock cubes, gravies.
* Processed cheese.
* Salty snacks eg potato chips, pretzels, salted popcorn.
* Salty and smoked fish eg anchovies, smoked salmon.
* Canned foods eg corned beef.
* Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce.
* Salty or smoked meats eg bacon, Viennas, ham.
* Foods in brine such as pickles and olives.
* Instant breakfast cereals.
You can reduce your salt intake by:
* Cooking with little /no salt.
* Preparing food with basil, bay leaves, chilli, garlic, ginger, mint, oregano, pepper, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, vinegar or wine.
* Adding little/no salt at the table.
* Reading food labels. Be on the lookout for words such as salt, sodium or NaCl.
* Selecting low salt or salt-free foods when available.