Research shows that about 40 percent of salt intake comes from individuals adding the salt themselves. Picture: Masi Losi

Johannesburg - Half a teaspoon of salt is the new recommended daily allowance suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The new guidelines issued last week are the WHO’s latest weapons in the fight against diet-related diseases. According to the new guidelines, adults should consume less than 2 000mg of sodium and at least 3 510mg of potassium per day.

Salt has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.

Elevated blood pressure – and with it heart disease and strokes – is, according to the WHO, the number one global cause of death and disability.

The new WHO guidelines have been welcomed by the National Department of Health, which over the last couple of years has been trying to wean South Africans off salt.

“Five grams would be a safe daily intake,” said Professor Prof Melvyn Freeman, the head of noncommunicable diseases.

But the problem is that currently South Africans, according to Freeman, are consuming between 9 and 10g a day. And a large portion of salt comes in the food people buy.

“A study done at Wits university has shown that if the amount of salt is reduced by half in bread, 7 000 lives could be saved a year,” he said.

He added that the department of health had been in consultation with the food manufacturing industry in an attempt to lower the amount of salt. But reducing salt has to be a slow process, so that the nation loses its taste for salt.

“The idea is that this needs to be done gradually so consumers don’t taste the difference. So if they are given something with a high salt content, then they will find the taste uncomfortable.”

High salt content is found in such staples as bread, mielie meal and soup powders.

“We need the public to be made aware of the dangers of salt. What we need to do is prevent people from coming into hospitals in the first place,” said Freeman.

The WHO guidelines are set up to help public health experts and policymakers in different countries to address noncommunicable diseases. - The Star