How to reduce your salt intake

We eat too much salt and if we don’t take drastic action now it can be a detriment to our health warns the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa. Angelique Ruzicka delves into the HSFSA’s latest report on salt and imparts their advice on healthy eating.

The World Health Organisation recommends that total salt intake should not exceed one teaspoon a day, an amount equal to five grams. However, the average South African eats roughly 8.5 grams of salt per day (between six and 11 grams), with some people eating significantly more than this.

South Africa is ahead of the pack when it comes to legislation to limit the salt content of certain foods. June 2016 marked the implementation of these regulations that have reduced salt in commonly consumed foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, and processed meats. So far legislation has been hugely successful with most manufacturers complying, and some products have reduced salt content by 30 to 40%. Salt legislation is a good start, but it is inadequate to curb excess salt intake, because we are still able to add salt to our meals and this is where the problem still lies.

Why do we eat so much salt?
It’s difficult to measure our salt intake. This is because it is hidden in almost everything we eat, even sweet foods. This is why it’s so essential not to add extra salt to our food as we’re probably getting enough of it already. “When adding extra salt in cooking or at the table, all the pinches, shakes and grinds of salt add more salt than we actually need. One take-out meal can triple our salt limit for one day. Even something as simple as a cheese and ham sandwich can provide 2.5 grams of salt, already half the daily limit,” says Gabriel Eksteen, dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA).

How much salt do you eat?
If you are not sure about how much salt you are consuming on a daily basis the good news is that the HSFSA has an online salt calculator that can do the calculation for you. This is the easiest way to see how much salt you eat, and identify the main salty culprits in your diet. The calculator has been carefully updated to improve accuracy and to reflect changes after salt legislation.

How to reduce salt intake
Choose foods wisely, keeping an eye out for food products with the Heart Mark logo and eat salty foods less often. How much salt is added at home is completely up to you so use it sparingly. When using salty ingredients like stock cubes, soy sauce or chicken spice as part of cooking, don’t add any further salt. Taste food while cooking and at the table, and think twice before adding more salt.

For more about how salt can be a killer, click here. And to read more about the restrictions, click here.