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In many cooking shows that we watch on TV the one common phrase that they all use is “Now add salt to taste” but invariably we add more salt than what is needed. I will not argue with the fact that every person’s taste buds are tuned differently

In many cooking shows that we watch on TV the one common phrase that they all use is “Now add salt to taste” but invariably we add more salt than what is needed. I will not argue with the fact that every person’s taste buds are tuned differently, but in general we add too much salt than what is required.

No doubt, salt is an essential part of our diets and humans are undoubtedly attracted to it. But this attraction often results in us consuming too much of it (around 10g per day, whereas the recommendation is 4 to 5g). This is mainly because the food industry adds too much of it to its products. About three-quarters (75%) of the salt we eat comes in processed foods.

Now you may say, “But I always check the content of sodium in the product” Well, I for one, used to also say that but after much deliberation I have come to realize that even though food companies specify the amount of sodium present in the product, we need to comprehend that Sodium is only a part of salt, the other part is Chloride. So the right measurement of salt would be to multiply the Sodium content by 2.5 and then multiply it by the amount of food you're going to eat. This then tells you much salt you're eating!

Amazed by this fact, I sure was. Even on products that proclaim to be LOW FAT and LOW CHOLESTEROL, guess they find the need to compensate for the reduced sugar with salt!

They say anything in excess is bad. This is particularly true in the case of salt. Eating some salt is essential to health, but eating too much can pose severe health risks like raise your blood pressure, which increases the risk of serious conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

Salt elevates your blood pressure

Consuming too much salt raises your blood pressure - the extent depends on your age. As you get older, high blood pressure starts to have an affect on your body that's why doctors and scientists advise to cut back on eating salt.

High blood pressure affects about one third of the population and this then leads to adverse conditions like stroke and brain damage. Therefore people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, and those who are older or overweight, are particularly susceptible to the effect of excess sodium on blood pressure.

However, sodium reduction may not lower blood pressure in younger people with low or normal blood pressure.

Other hidden risks of high sodium

Excessive sodium intake has also been linked to other conditions, such as:

Hypernatremia – this is a serious condition that occurs when sodium levels rise above 145mEq/L. it occurs when the balance of sodium and water in the system is disrupted.

Osteoporosis – this occurs when large amounts of calcium are excreted in the urine due to high level of sodium intake. Hence may result in fracture.

Gastric cancer - Researchers from Leuven University in Holland discovered that a high intake of salt can significantly increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Hypertension – In the recent INTERSALT study suggest that an extra 6 grams of salt consumed daily can increase the risk of heart disease by 21% and stroke by 34%.

Kidney problems and kidney stones – studies suggest that high sodium intake is related to increased urinary calcium losses, raising the risk of kidney stones.

Oedema – due to increased sodium consumption the kidneys can’t excrete it efficiently therefore excess sodium starts to accumulate in the body. This accumulated excess sodium then leaks to the surrounding tissues causing swelling especially in the ankles and feet. In addition, because sodium pulls and holds water, high sodium concentration in the body will lead to an increase in the blood volume.

Heart failure - excess salt stiffens arteries and raises blood pressure thus making the heart work harder in pumping blood into small vessels. This tears and ruptures vessels throughout the body. Resulting in clogged arteries over time and hence increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure.

How does excess salt cause such risks?

Chronic salt intake not only over does our sodium intake, but also affects the balance between sodium and potassium.  It is important to maintain high levels of potassium within our cells and low concentrations of sodium.

Therefore if the salt-potassium balance is off track, with the sodium levels exceeding the potassium levels, healthy cellular metabolism is compromised.  As a result, resistance to disease and illness is weakened. Therefore causing susceptibility to various lifestyle diseases and risks.

Tips on how to eat less salt

Consuming the right amount of salt is essential if you want to preserve your health. This may mean changing your food habits for good, even if foods seem tasteless.

- Avoid placing the salt shaker on the table - We often add salt to our food without even tasting it! Add it religiously when you're cooking and try to avoid using rock salt (as the crystals are larger you tend to eat more). 

- Limit your intake of salty food – foods such as dried meat, cheese, preserves, ready meals and other salty meat should be avoided. Sparkling mineral water also contains high amounts of sodium.

- Don't eat meals that contain more than 1g of salt per portion - The content of salt is often indicated on the packaging, or use the sodium content and multiply by 2.5.

- Substitute - The flavour that salt renders can be replaced with other seasoning, like herbs and spices which can also help bring out the taste of food better.

- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables - They are rich in potassium which partly neutralizes the harmful effects of salt.

According to the American Medical Association, around 150,000 lives could be saved annually if people cut their salt intake by just half. So take the first step to cut down your salt intake today. Your long-term health is in a way determined by what you put in your mouth and remember; just half the amount could do wonders!

  • Massey, L.K., and S.J. Whiting, "Dietary Salt, Urinary Calcium, and Kidney Stone Risk," Nutrition Reviews, 53:131-139, 1995.