The origin of the phrase ‘take it with a grain of salt’ comes from the idea that food is more easily swallowed if eaten with salt.

In medieval England salt was held in high value – it was rare and expensive. If you are someone who is the ‘salt of the earth’, you are a ‘very good and worthy’ person!

Salt was certainly placed high on a pedestal many moons ago but these days it’s reputation has taken a nosedive due to an overwhelming abundance of research indicating the dangers of a high salt intake.

Along with many nutrition issues, it can be hard to know what to believe about salt. How much is too much? Are some salts better than others? What if I sweat a lot? I’ve answered some of your frequently asked questions.

What’s the harm in salt?

A high salt intake can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to a heart attack, heart failure or a stroke. It can also increase your risk of developing kidney disease or stomach cancer and has been implicated in other health issues such as osteoporosis, asthma and obesity.

Alarmingly, high blood pressure is not limited to adults as it is now being seen in young children. According to the World Action on Salt & Health, evidence indicates that a high salt intake in children influences high blood pressure and may predispose someone to several lifestyle related diseases.

How much salt does our body need?

Only a very small amount of salt is required for our bodies to function effectively and it is actually very difficult to eat too little salt.

It’s estimated that if we reduce our salt intake to 6g (1 teaspoon)/day, it could prevent 2.6 million deaths from stroke and heart attacks each year worldwide.

Most people eat too much salt without even realising it due to a high intake of processed foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, canned foods, soups, sauces and biscuits.

The Health Promotion Board in Singapore states that Singaporeans eat 60% more than the national recommended level of 5g salt (2000mg sodium)/day.

How do I cut back?

Only ¼ of the salt we eat comes from salt that we add to foods. The other 75% comes from processed foods.

To reduce your salt intake, try the following:

  • choose salt-reduced or no-added-salt foods
  • eat more fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, unsalted nuts and legumes, rice and pasta, oats and dairy products
  • reduce your intake of processed animal foods such as ham, salami, bacon, sausages, fish balls, fish cakes and salted eggs
  • season your food naturally with fresh or dried herbs and spices, lemon or lime juice, mustard, wine and pepper
  • limit your intake of takeaway foods and ready meals
  • reduce the amount of salt you use in cooking by half and don’t add salt to your food at the table

Salt content of common foods

Food

Salt content (g)

1 teaspoon salt

6

Recommended daily limit

5

1 plate Char kway teow

3.6

1 cup chicken stock

3.2

1 tablespoon soy sauce

3.2

3 slices ham

2.5

4 slices bread

1.5

1 chicken breast

0

I use rock salt, does that make a difference?

It doesn’t matter whether you use sea salt, rock salt or regular table salt, they all contain similar amounts of sodium chloride and have a similar impact on your blood pressure. They all need to be limited.

I live in Singapore where it’s hot and humid and I sweat a lot. Do I need to add salt to my diet?

If you live in a hot and humid climate, like Singapore, and you exercise heavily, you may benefit from taking an electrolyte-containing drink during or after a heavy exercise session. This may help to increase your fluid intake and also replace large salt losses that can occur in endurance events.

For most people, however, you will easily meet your salt requirements by eating a well balanced diet so you won’t need any additional salt in your diet.

 

If you would like more tips on reducing salt in your diet from a qualified dietitian, contact Vanessa for a face-to-face consultation if you are in Singapore or a Skype consultation if elsewhere.

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