While salt is a mineral, and one our bodies need to provide electrolytes and control body fluid, the table salt we use today has nothing in common with natural salt.
What remains after typical salt is "chemically cleaned," is sodium chloride – an unnatural chemical form of salt that your body recognises as something completely foreign. What we are suggesting is that during the cleaning / refining process of table salt, valuable minerals are stripped away that could make the substance more nutrient-dense, and only the chemical compound sodium chloride remains. The sodium is what our bodies needs from this compound, and also the minerals that are removed.
This form of salt is in almost every preserved product that you eat. Therefore, when you add more salt to your already salted food, your body receives more salt than it can dispose of.
What is the daily recommendation?
Adults should be consuming under five grams (5000 milligrams) of salt daily. This is the rough equivalent to just less than two teaspoon’s worth. South African’s are estimated to take in double this amount.
What are the side effects of too much salt?
We increase our blood pressure with every mouthful, and have been subjecting ourselves to the scary side effects of heart disease, hypertension, strokes, vascular dementia and kidney failure. According to the South African Medical Research Council, strokes rank third as a leading cause of death in South Africa, and hypertensive diseases rank seventh.
What action is the government taking in response?
Earlier this year, the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, signed an amendment to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1976, limiting the amount of sodium allowed in bread, butter, cereals, potato crisps, convenience foods, processed meat, noodle and rice mixes, powders, stock cubes and the like. These items need to have lowered their salt percentages by 2019. In addition to governmental efforts, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has also created Salt Watch, to monitor the implementation progress of the amended Act.
What challenges is the country facing in light of this new law?
Big food businesses and consumer groups are now required to either drop their salt levels and risk lowering the appeal of their product, or seek out salt substitutes to replace its function of taste and preservation. Both options could incur additional costs, as shelf-lives could shorten as a result.
What is the difference between salt and sodium?
Salt is made of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. This means your daily recommendation of sodium is significantly lower than that of salt, so make sure you’re reading salt percentages on food labels, not sodium. In general, healthy adults should aim for 2300mg of sodium, and no more than 1500mg if they are already suffering the side effects of too much salt.
What can individuals do in lieu of the salt crisis?
When it comes to managing our salt intake, we don’t have to be dependent on government laws. Here are some ways for us to lower our intake:
Avoid processed foods wherever possible. These are not only laden with hidden salts, but sugars, fats and artificial ingredients as well.
Skip the salt at the dinner table. Much like adding less sugar to your morning coffee, your taste buds will easily adapt to less salt over time. Focus on fresh herbs and spices for flavour in the meantime.
Be aware of your salt sources. Ready-made meals, takeaways and restaurant meals all have unhealthy salts added, making it hard for you to track your intake.
If you have to buy ready-made meals or convenience foods, read the food labels on the back. This will tell you just how much salt is in each serving size.
Prepare your own meals wherever possible. Making your own meals using fresh ingredients will drastically lower your salt intake. When seasoning your food, add salt right at the end to keep you from over-seasoning.
Try a healthy salt substitute, like Himalayan Rock Salt. Whilst it does not entitle you to consume more than the recommended allowance, it boasts all 84 of the natural minerals found in your body, packing a nutritional punch in comparison to non-nutritive table salt.
Up your potassium levels. If you battle to lower your salt intake, increase the amount of potassium in your diet through foods like white beans and potatoes, leafy greens and bananas. This counteracts the effects of salt to some degree, cancelling out some of your intake.