Did you know that excessive salt intake can increase your risk of stomach cancer, kidney failure, dehydration, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes?
The theme for this year’s World Salt Awareness Week (16 – 22 March) is: ‘Salt – The Forgotten Killer’.
What happens when you eat salt
So, what happens when you consume too much salt?
For starters, your kidneys struggle to keep up with the high levels of sodium in the bloodstream. As it accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream.
Increased blood volume means the heart has to work harder and that there is more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the additional work and pressure can cause blood vessels to stiffen, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, and even heart failure.
There is evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta (main artery) and kidneys without increasing blood pressure, and may even increase the risk for osteoporosis.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, salt, as well as salted and salty foods, is a “probable cause of stomach cancer”.
A low salt diet
The good news is that you can lower your risk by:
- Eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, which are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium
- Eating less bread, cheese, and processed meat and foods, as they are high in sodium and low in potassium.
Watch out for hidden salt
As much as 75 percent of our salt intake is hidden in the food that we buy, particularly in processed food.
Fast food and restaurant meals also contain a lot of hidden salt, especially if it is made with processed meat and cheese. An average pizza contains about 6,2g of salt.
Guidelines for a low salt diet
Food doesn’t necessarily have to taste salty to contain a lot of salt. It’s important to read food labels.
Here is an easy guideline to follow when choosing foods:
- If sodium or salt is listed among the first three ingredients, the food is likely to be high in salt.
- Items that contain more than 1,5g per 100g are high in salt.
- Foods that have less than 0,3g of salt per 100g are low in salt and is the better choice.
- Look for the Heart Mark to identify foods that have a lower salt content.
- Some products appear to have less salt than they actually do: ‘low sodium’ can mean up to 120mg sodium for each 100g, whereas ‘virtually free from sodium’ actually means there can be up to 5mg sodium for each 100g.
- Do not add extra salt to food at the table.
- Avoid flavouring agents that contain salt, such as onion salt, celery salt, garlic salt, vegetable salt, barbeque and chicken spices, meat tenderisers, commercial sauces, soups, gravies, and stock cubes.
- Remember to check food labels for ingredients such as salt, sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, sodium bicarbonate and soy sauce or any sodium-containing additive.
What about ‘healthy salts’?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that fancier types of salt are healthier. Whether it’s pink, black, rock, crystal or flakes, they still have the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt.
Although less refined salts might contain more nutrients than everyday table salt, these will probably only be in very small quantities and can probably be sourced from other foods in your diet. Bigger crystals also taste less salty, so you are likely to add more than refined salt.
What is the government doing to regulate salt?
Thanks to efforts by the food industry, governments and health organisations like the World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), salt is well and truly on the health agenda worldwide.
This has prompted the South African Department of Health to take legislative action in order to lower the salt content in foods. Producers have been given varying time frames to adapt their strategies for reducing sodium in different products.
The foods affected include bread, breakfast cereal, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks.
Each of these food categories has an individual target to be achieved immediately, and another stricter limit that needs to be met by 2019.
Source: Nutrition Information Centre Stellenbosch University
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