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South Africans consume up to 2 – 3 times the recommended daily allowance of salt of 5 grams per day, according to the Journal of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa published in July 2015. Furthermore, the report states that high consumption of salt is one of the key factors in the development of hypertension, which is the most common reason for South Africans attending primary health care and also the most common diagnosis (13,1%) in South Africa.
Dr Dominique Stott, Executive: Medical Standards and Services at PPS, says that there are various reasons why South Africans have such a high salt intake, which includes an increased urbanisation of population groups and an increased availability and low cost of convenience foods. “However, overall we have a general overexposure to salt in our regular diets.”
The easiest way to reduce one’s intake of salt is to reduce the intake of processed foods as they contain significant amounts of salt, for both flavouring and preservative purposes, she says. “Processed meats such as bacon and salami, canned and pickled foods, bottled sauces and cereals contain large amounts of ‘hidden’ salt labelled as sodium. Salt is contained naturally in milk, meat and shellfish, but the amount is increased dramatically when food is processed.”
According to Dr Stott, for example pork meat contains only 63mg sodium per 100g, but bacon contains 1480mg per 100g, while a potato contains only 7mg of salt, but a small pack of potato crisps contain 800mg. “Our bodies need salt to function optimally, but it is recommended that the daily salt intake should not exceed 2300mg per day which is equivalent to about one teaspoon (5g) a day.”
She states that the population’s salt intake has doubled in many households when compared a few years ago. “Salt (sodium chloride) has been used for thousands of years to add flavour to food or as a preservative. A healthy addition of salt to one’s food does not pose significant risks, however this cannot be said for a people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart failure, heart disease or kidney disease.”
All individuals suffering from chronic disease and who are on prescribed medicine must be increasingly aware of their salt and sodium intake, she warns. “Reducing one’s salt intake is one of the most effective ways of lowering the risk associated with high blood pressure. At home, it is also not enough to just eliminate salt during cooking.”
She advises people to remove the salt shaker off the dinner table at home to reduce the family’s salt intake. “It is also important that people learn how to read food labels properly in order to make good food choices. It is advisable that at least 80% of one’s diet should be dominated by fresh home cooked food as this will also assist in reducing sodium intake.”
“The kidneys are able to excrete a certain amount of sodium, however it is possible to overload the kidneys with salt, which results in the sodium being retained, which in turn forces the body retain water as well says Dr Stott”
Conversely, should a person not get enough salt as part of their daily diet, it will affect the sodium and water balance in their kidneys, says Dr Stott. It is almost impossible to not get enough salt on a daily basis, especially if the diet is not varied or does not contain a variety of healthy foods, she notes. “However people living in hot and humid climates or participating in endurance sports, such as marathon running, must be aware that water intoxication may occur if they only replace water and not electrolytes, such as sodium, as well. Sodium is therefore also required in the diet, but just in smaller doses than what the population currently consumes.”
“When it comes to life insurance, life insurers take current health factors such as the presence or likelihood of developing lifestyle-related diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure, into consideration, when determining a client’s risk profile. Overall, it will be good for one’s financial and health condition to drastically reduce their daily salt intake,” concludes Dr Stott.