SALT WATCH: WHAT IS SALT?

Salt. A mineral which is probably the most commonly used globally, and which has deep roots in the development of humankind. Not only is it used in the flavouring and preservation of food, but is also an antiseptic1. In ancient times, salt was one of the world’s principal trading commodities, and interestingly in later times it also served as a symbol, where your social standing was ranked according to how closely you were placed to the saltcellar at the table1. So, given the history of the importance of salt, why does it have such a bad name these days?

WHAT IS SALT?
Salt is a common name for sodium chloride, which is made up of one sodium ion and one chloride ion. The part of salt that has health implications is the sodium ion. Salt is needed by the body in small amounts (1.25 g/day) in order to function properly. It is important for normal cell function, blood health (maintaining plasma volume) and transmission of nerve impulses2.

HEALTH ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH TOO MUCH SALT
So, we need salt, but the problem comes in when we consume too much salt. Health conditions associated with high salt intake include:

  • High blood pressure (well established link between the two), which is a major risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • Kidney disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stomach cancer

South Africa has one of the highest rates of hypertension (high blood pressure), where the 2013 SANHANES-1 found that 10.2% of participants were hypertensive. Hypertension contributed to 9% of all deaths in South Africa in 2000, and CVD is the leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS2.

HOW MUCH SALT DO WE NEED?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one should only have 5g of salt per day, or 2000mg of sodium, which comes to 1 teaspoon from all sources! If you think about all the food you eat in the day, are consuming 5g of salt per day? Probably not, given its wide use for flavouring and preservation. In fact, studies indicate that South Africans currently consume 6 – 11 g of salt per day! This can be twice the recommended limit2. It is therefore not surprising that we have one of the highest rates of hypertension.

CONCLUSION
So we need salt to survive, but we just need to limit how much we consume in a day. We may not realise it, but we are often consuming much more salt than we need, due to it being “hidden” in our food. For information on where we get salt in our diet, refer to the FUTURELIFE® article: ‘Salt watch: where are we getting our salt from?’.

REFERENCES
http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,925341,00.html
http://saltwatch.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/HSF-Salt-Reference-Manual_for-website_14-10-2014.pdf