Consuming too much sodium can lead to health problems

27Sep 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Consuming too much sodium can lead to health problems

The new salt legislation that kicked in on 30 June 2016 will help South African consumers lower their salt intake.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure
But why is this necessary? Humans need salt to survive as our bodies require sodium to transmit nerve impulses, contract muscle fibres, and control fluid balance in our cells of the body – together with other electrolytes like potassium.

Sodium as such is however not the issue. It is the quantity of sodium we consume that causes health problems. Excess sodium intake sets off a complex cascade of physiological changes that can result in increased blood pressure.

Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, which can lead to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease or even stroke.

What is salt?
Salt is the common name for sodium chloride, which consists of 40% sodium. Sodium is the mineral that plays an important role in nerve function and muscle contraction. It occurs naturally in almost all foods, but is most commonly found in table and cooking salt.

What is hypertension?
When blood pressure consistently exceeds a specific level, (140 over 90), it is referred to as hypertension. A person who suffers from hypertension has blood vessels that are subjected to excessive pressure, which can lead to hardening of the arteries and arterial damage.

Hypertension constricts the flow of blood to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys, thereby increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks or visual impairment.

Excessive intake of sodium from salt further increases blood pressure, as sodium causes water retention, which increases fluid pressure in the blood vessels.
How to reduce your salt intake

1. Fresh is best!
Serve fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, and many fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, particularly potatoes and bananas.

Potassium balances sodium, and studies show adequate levels of potassium are linked to lower blood pressure. Don’t forget to “eat the colours of the rainbow” to provide the body with phytochemicals that will help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

2. Tasty alternatives.

We have come to rely too heavily on salty products for taste and flavour when cooking. Go back to basics and use fresh herbs, spices and other natural products to add flavour to your cooking. Great examples are fresh ginger, garlic, coriander, dried or fresh herbs, lemon juice or citrus zest, curry powder, cumin, nutmeg, tomato puree, and onion.
3. Gradual reduction.

According to a 2015 Harvard Medical School report, the average person can't taste moderate changes in salt content (up to 25%). Fortunately food companies, prompted by the new legislation, have already made substantial cuts in sodium at the level of manufacture.

Further salt legislation will kick in in 2019, which will reduce sodium levels even more – helping us to reduce our sodium intake without even noticing.

4. Skip the bread!

According to Salt Watch, South Africans eat too much salt. In fact, we consume twice as much as we should, totalling an average of 6–11 g per day. One of the biggest contributors to salt in the diet of South Africans is bread.

Why not embrace other alternatives to bread in the diet to lower salt intake and increase the variety of whole grains in our diet, providing us with fibre and minerals as well as B vitamins.

Examples of ways to cut down on bread are: swap a burger bun for two large brown mushrooms to encase your patty; replace the lunch sandwich with thickly sliced grilled aubergine, layered with mozzarella and tuna to make an aubergine stack; a chicken or tuna salad with corn, chick peas or quinoa 5. Watch your snacks: go for unsalted nuts, eat less biltong and choose “lite” potato chips (less fat and salt.

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