Getting the skinny on salt

Friday, 26 July 2013

SaltWhile 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.

Written by

Fitness and lifestyle expert, Lisa Raleigh, has been an exercise specialist for more than a decade. Known for her television roles as the winning team trainer on SA's The Biggest Loser, fitness guru on Michael Mol's Hello Doctor as well as the health and wellness consultant on SABC 3's daily morning show, Expresso, Lisa is fast becoming South Africa's unofficial face of wellness and healthy living.

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  1. Kariwo

    I’m a salt addict, definitely! but i’ve started avoiding powder soups (Knorr, Royco, Maggie etc) and replaced that with more spices and using a bit of flour to thicken stews

    5 years ago •

  1. Tiaan Smith

    I’m no fan of salt. I’ll skip.

    6 years ago •

  1. Beaute Revanche

    I’ve heard that salt causes cellulite so raw salt isn’t good for you, rather use the herbal kind.

    6 years ago •

  1. Livvy

    Thanks for the info. I love salt but over the years I’ve learnt to substitute salt with herbs when cooking, the flavours are so much nicer.

    6 years ago •

  1. Sammy

    Such a great and interesting read. 2 Table spoons! Salt is in almost everything so its good they trying to reduce the amount.

    6 years ago •

  1. Tasha

    So interesting! I don’t really like lots of salt.

    6 years ago •

  1. Glamista

    Really informative article… I have always wondered what a reasonable amount is.

    6 years ago •

  1. Losh

    Great informative article. I must admit though, I’m not much of a salt person. I don’t add it to popcorn and salad etc…

    6 years ago •

  1. ABeauty

    Very interestring read. I love salt but tend to go for the rocky Himalayan salt, and I dont cook with salt at all.

    6 years ago •

  1. NaturalDiva

    This is a very interesting article. Doctors and health care professionals tend to spend more energy on warning consumers against the evils of sugar and salt falls by the way side. one needs to balance one’s diet for a healthy body and mind.

    6 years ago •

  1. Abby

    I know its bad but I crave salty things more than sweets. I need to stop eating so much salt. I over-salt everything!

    6 years ago •

  1. AndreaM

    I don’t like to consume salt that much but its great as a relaxing detox bath, Himalayan salt is great for health.

    6 years ago •

  1. me

    I am still looking to see old fashion ‘dirty’ rough salt on the shelves. Having the old type of salt might help even more in this.

    6 years ago •

  1. Heidi G

    We all consume way too much salt, and the problem is it is hidden in so many food like takeaways and processed foods.

    6 years ago •

  1. Pseudo_kate

    I try make it a rule that if I ever find myself wanting to season something in a restaurant, I must reach for pepper or Tabasco sauce instead. Once you learn to take less salt in your food and replace it with herbs and spices when you cook – you’ll forget how you used to like so much salt in the first place.

    6 years ago •

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