Not just a pinch of salt
Posted on 27 February 2017
Updated 15 February 2017.
To survive, our bodies need salt. But too much can cause health risks, including high blood pressure (hypertension), which can cause strokes and heart attacks. A Mediclinic dietician discusses foods high in salt, and whether alternatives like Himalayan salt are healthier.
How much salt is too much?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), adults should consume no more than 5 grams of salt per day. This equals slightly less than one teaspoon of salt.
Salt, or sodium as it is scientifically known, is naturally found in milk, meat and shellfish as well as a variety of processed foods such as ready meals, processed meats like bacon, ham and salami, cheese, salty snack foods and instant noodles.
‘Other examples of foods that include large amounts of sodium are breads and processed cereals, which are usually consumed on a regular basis,’ says Cornel Joubert, a private practising dietician at Potchefstroom Mediclinic. ‘Stocks for soups and gravies, soup powders, soy and fish sauce are also high in sodium, and obviously table salt used as a condiment.’
Is Himalayan salt really better for you?
Recently, the benefits of salt alternatives like pink Himalayan salt and non-iodised sea salt or rock salt have been widely touted, but the fact remains that salt is salt. ‘Whichever kind of salt is used, it’s the sodium content that matters,’ says Cornel.
Instead of changing the type of salt you use, rather consider eliminating as much salt as possible from your daily diet. Gradually reduce the salt and sauces you add while cooking, and cut down consumption of processed meats and ready-made meals. Some of the most salty foods we regularly eat include:
- Breakfast cereals and canned goods
Salt is commonly found as a preservative in a number of breakfast cereals and canned goods.
- Store-bought bread and rolls
There are no low-salt bread alternatives on the market yet, so try to reduce your intake, unless you’re prepared to make your own.
- Butter or margarine
If you can’t omit butter or margarine from your diet, rather opt for a low-fat unsalted one.
- Boerewors, viennas, processed cold meats and smoked meat products (for example, haddock, mackerel and bacon)
Again, processed meat products – including sausages and cold meats – contain high levels of hidden salt.
- Savoury snacks like potato crisps, pretzels and savoury biscuits
We all get a craving for snacks but replace salty savoury snacks with unsalted nuts or unsalted popcorn to keep hunger pangs at bay.
- Aromat, soup powders and stock cubes
‘Instead of using salt and high-salt products to flavour food, opt for natural herbs and spices – for example, use mustard powder instead of ready-made mustard. As a general rule, mixed spices normally contain added salt,’ says Cornel. ‘Read product labels, and especially look for the word “sodium” in the list of ingredients.’
Other simple ways of reducing salt intake is to choose fresh foods and foods with a lower sodium content, eat fresh fruit instead of salty snacks, and never put a salt shaker on the table.