Despite the World Health Organisation capping the daily consumption of salt at 5g, many South Africans find themselves reaching for the salt shaker at every meal, and consuming much more than required by their bodies. South Africans, on average, ingest between 10 and 15g of salt a day.
Experts suggest that limiting salt consumption would not only lower deaths from heart disease by 11% a year, but would save the state about R713 million in healthcare spending on diseases such as hypertension and strokes.
Not only does sodium result in the body retaining more water, but it increases blood volume and causes the heart to work harder, placing more pressure on the arteries and resulting in possible heart failure or stroke.
Salt remains the major driver of hypertension in South Africa, with the SA Demographic and Health Survey of 2016 reporting that 46% of women and 44% of men aged 15 and older suffer from hypertension - making this group vulnerable to strokes and heart disease.
Irene Labuschagne, a dietitian from the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch, advises people to refrain from using too much salt, including gourmet and granular salt.
“Do not add extra salt to food at the table. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘fancier’ types of salt are healthy. Pink, black, rock, crystal or flake salt all have the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt.
Less-refined salts may contain more nutrients than everyday table salt, although in small amounts could easily be sourced from other foods in your diet. Bigger crystals also taste less salty, and you are likely to add more to your food than you would with refined salt,” says Labuschagne.
Professor Pamela Naidoo, chief executive officer of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, says “healthy eating habits should be reinforced at an early age to help children to develop good eating habits, and to get them used to low-sodium dishes”.
Research by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences in the US suggests that people who tend to add salt to their food could be “supertasters”. These are people whose sense of taste is heightened, possibly due to the bitter taste receptor gene.
Typically, these people tend to add more salt to their food to disguise or cancel out the bitter taste taste buds in the palate register when eating certain foods such as cheddar cheese, broccoli, spinach or olives. Those with a more neutral sense of taste are less inclined to add more salt to their foods.
Nicole Jennings, a spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says “once you know your ‘salt status’ and have identified yourself as a supertaster, you need to be extra aware of your salt use”.
Supertasters can, however, train their taste buds by shifting their sense of taste to enjoy foods made with less sodium, through using natural herbs and spices instead of salt to achieve the desired taste.
“They could use fresh garlic, basil, dill, oregano, lemon or red pepper flakes as healthy alternatives to salt,” advises Jennings. Labuschagne suggests adding more fresh vegetables and fruit to your diet.
“Fresh vegetables and fruit are naturally low in salt and naturally high in potassium - which actually counters the effects of sodium.
“Drain and rinse canned vegetables and legumes before eating, as the brine they are preserved in contains a lot of salt.
“Cut down on bread, cheese and processed meat, as these and other processed foods are high in sodium and low in potassium,” she says.
Labuschagne also suggests cutting back on salt-containing flavouring agents such as onion salt, celery salt, garlic salt, vegetable salt, barbeque and chicken spices, meat tenderisers, commercial sauces, soups and gravies.