We’re a salt-loving nation, but it’s this habit that could see us kick the proverbial bucket a lot sooner than we bargained for, warns health experts ahead of National Salt Awareness week (16 to 22 March).
Salt is the major factor that increases blood pressure and is therefore indirectly responsible for many heart attacks and strokes annually. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) today claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined, and according to SA’s leading provider of cardiovascular (CVS) medication, medicine sales related to heart- and blood pressure conditions are at an all-time high.
Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says annual medicine sales for CVS conditions are sitting at R3,1-bn – about 23% higher than a mere five years ago.
“Although there are many risk factors, our salt intake could triple our risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Our bodies need salt to function optimally, but many of us just eat too much of it.
“SA’s salt consumption could be as high as 40g a day, which is way above the World Health Organisation’s recommended intake of less than 5 g a day. When it comes to our discretionary salt consumption, which is the amount of salt we add to food ourselves, it is as high as 40% a day. In most other Westernised countries, the discretionary use of salt is in the region of 15%.”
Van Aswegen says it’s high time that South Africans wake up to the dangers of excess salt consumption and make healthy eating part of a healthy lifestyle. “More than 80% of heart diseases can be prevented if we consume less salt.”
According to international health guidelines, adults should try to make sure their daily intake of salt is no more than 5 g a day and children need even less. The daily recommended maximum for children is:
- 1 to 3 years – 2 g salt a day (0.8 g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3 g salt a day (1.2 g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5 g salt a day (2 g sodium)
- 11 and over – 6 g salt a day (2.4 g sodium)
Approximately 75 % of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy. Foods high in salt include:
- Ham, bacon, sausages, salami and other processed meats
- Canned, packet or instant soups
- Smoked meat and fish
- Gravies, yeast extracts, stock cubes, soy sauce
- Tomato sauce, mayonnaise and other sauces
- Ready-made meals and takeaways
- Some jars/packets of cooking sauce
- Salted and dry roasted nuts and crisps
“You don’t need to stop eating salty foods altogether,” says van Aswegen, “just try to cut down on the amount you eat or eat them less often. It’s important to be salt-aware, so be sure to compare food labels when you are shopping and choose the ones lowest in salt. Some labels contain information on sodium instead of salt. To do the conversion, simply multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. As a guide, remember that food low in salt, contains less than 0.3 g per 100 g of the product. If it has more than 1.5 g of salt per 100 g of the food it’s high in salt and any levels between this indicate a medium amount of salt.”
As part of Pharma Dynamics’ ongoing education campaign to help curb the growing incidence of cardiovascular disease, it has made several resources available for free to the public. These include the popular Cooking from the Heart cookbook series, which comprise of more than 100 flavourful breakfast, lunch, snack and dessert recipes, which are low in salt and sugar and have all been given the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA’s stamp of approval.
The public can access any of the Cooking from the Heart recipes for free via www.cookingfromtheheart.co.za.
The cookbooks also offer practical ‘swap it’ tips, such as replacing salt with fresh herbs and spices or lemon for flavour and provides useful health advice including how to eat more fibre, interpret food labels correctly, pack healthier lunchboxes and cook more healthily.