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Shaking Your Salt Habit

Our taste for salt is not simply something we are born with – the same goes for our craving for sugar, tobacco and ... – it’s a learned habit that’s well worth retraining. While a sprinkling of salt is essential to our health, most of us consume far more than we need. Too much salt increases fluid retention and swelling causing high blood pressure and related problems such as heart disease, stroke and kidney problems.

The maximum recommended daily intake of salt is 2300mg per day but if you are at risk of heart disease you should limit this to no more than 1550mg, or half a teaspoon. Sadly many of us consume up to 10 times that amount.

The problem lies not just with table salt but with our dependence on packaged and processed foods heavily laced with sodium to add flavour and prolong shelf life. It’s quite a shock to find that these products - from cakes to biscuits, cereals and chips to ready made sauces, soups and veggies, cured meats and stock cubes – contribute 75% of our daily salt intake, compared with just 15% derived from what we add at the table and while cooking. Our bodies are designed for a high potassium, low salt diet but processing methods that increase sodium also reduce potassium, a mineral that lowers blood pressure.

Fortunately processed food can be replaced with natural sources such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals, which also provide ample sodium for our needs.

We may not be conscious of just how much salt we eat but our taste buds are trained to like and expect it – a process called neuro-adaption, which fuels our cravings and ensures that we keep filling our shopping trolleys with packaged foods. Unfortunately sodium is also an appetite stimulant, which means our desire for salty flavours can compound our risk of heart disease with the additional problem of overeating and weight gain.

Spitting the Dummy

Just like a baby’s comforter, salt is an acquired habit we can readily discard – with worthwhile rewards.

‘People who significantly cut back on salt in their diet could reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by almost a quarter,’ reports a study in the British Medical Journal. Research also reveals that a reduction of just 300mg of sodium daily can lower our heart disease risk factor by 10%.

How difficult is it to make the break from salt? The good news is that while initially food tastes bland without it, our taste buds adjust within a matter of days and begin enjoying a whole new range of flavours previously masked by the sensory overload of sodium.

In time cravings vanish and food with too much added salt becomes inedible.

How Low is too Low?

We all need sodium to keep us functioning and research suggests that we should not consume less than 1000mg or more than 300mg per day. If you have high blood pressure or your doctor has recommended a low salt diet, it’s best to aim for about 1200-1550mg per day. You can work this out by reading the nutrition labels on food and adding up the sodium you eat – or simply by cutting down on high salt products.

The Devil in Disguise

Salt comes in a number of guises. Identify these if you want to cut back.

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – additive No. 621

  • Baking Power – Additive No. 334 and 500

  • Baking Soda – additive No. 500

  • Brine

  • Sodium Nitrate or nitrate – additive No. 250 and 251

  • Sodium erythrobate

  • Sodium (and word) or ‘any word’ salt – additive No. 318

It’s also worth knowing that products such as sea, river, rock salt, plus garlic salt and chicken salt may get the thumbs up from foodies, but they’re not actually any healthier as the sodium content remains the same.

A Sprinkle About Salt

Why is it good for you?

  • Salt regulates blood glucose level by aiding the transport of glucose in and out of our cells.

  • Salt is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses.

  • Salt enables muscle contractions.

  • Salt regulates your blood volume.

Why is it bad for you?

  • Salt increases fluid retention and swelling causing high blood pressure and related problems such as heart disease, stroke and kidney problems

  • Salt increases the risk of gastric cancer

  • Salt increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures when excessive urination causes calcium loss.

A word about Iodine

Are you concerned that in cutting back your salt intake you may not get enough iodine? Iodine is a mineral important for the thyroid gland and hormones, regulating your metabolic rate and promoting brain development throughout your life – from foetus to old age. Iodine is especially important during pregnancy and childhood but, if iodised salt is off the menu, top up your iodine intake with seafood and seaweed such as kelp and nori, or grains and veggies grown in iodine rich soil.


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