Consuming too much salt in your food can be disastrous for your overall health. While salt is something most of us cannot have our food without it, we must monitor how much we consume. Excessive or high salt intake continues to be a global health problem. It contributes to the growing high blood pressure epidemic.
In South Africa, high blood pressure often goes undiagnosed and is poorly controlled. Leading to preventable deaths from heart disease, kidney disease, and dementia. With such dire consequences, we wouldn’t be worth our weight in salt if we didn’t provide you with the bitter truth about what the salt you put in your food does to your body.
How much salt is too much?
Well, the World Health Organisation recommends that salt intake should be limited to no more than 5g per person, per day. Alarmingly, we South Africans fall way short of this recommendation, consuming an astonishing 8.5g of salt a day as a result of buying processed foods with hidden salts and also cooking with lots of salt and salty ingredients like barbecue spice and stock cubes. This ‘hidden’ salt accounts for around 75% of the salt we eat, only 25% comes from the salt we add while cooking or at the table. From the Russians in Kota's to the bacon in your favourite burger and the spice in braaied meat you love; the South African diet is lousy with salt and this has major implications for our health.
How Too Much Salt Affects the Body
Eating too much salt puts extra strain on the insides of your arteries causing the tiny muscles in the artery walls to become stronger and thicker. This makes the space inside the arteries smaller and raises your blood pressure. This cycle of increasing blood pressure (which occurs slowly over several years) can ultimately lead to the arteries bursting or becoming so narrow that they then clog up entirely. When this happens, the organs of the body that were receiving the blood from the arteries become starved of the oxygen and nutrients they need. This can result in the organs being damaged and can be fatal.
The Sodium in table salt can lead to cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure if consumed in large quantities. To compensate for the stiffening and narrowing of the blood vessels which results from high blood pressure, the heart tries harder to pump blood throughout the body, which further increases blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing heart failure and causing complications in those with existing heart failure. Also, high blood pressure is a major risk factor for left ventricular hypertrophy, which is the enlargement of the muscle tissue that makes up the wall of the heart's main pumping chamber. Most people with the condition have no symptoms and experience no significant problems. For some, it can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or abnormal heart rhythms.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, reducing salt intake by as little as 0.85g per day, could save 7400 South Africans from dying from heart diseases and strokes
Your body filters unwanted fluid in your blood through your kidney, via osmosis, to draw excess water out of your blood. This requires a balance of sodium and potassium to pull the water across the wall from the bloodstream into a collecting channel in the kidney. Consuming too much salt in your diet will alter this sodium balance, causing the kidneys to have impaired function and remove less water resulting in higher blood pressure. This puts a strain on the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Also, high salt intake has been shown to increase the amount of protein in the urine which is a major risk factor for the decline of kidney function. There is also increasing evidence that high salt intake may increase deterioration of kidney disease in people already suffering from kidney problems
The raised blood pressure caused by eating too much salt may damage the arteries leading to the brain. At first, it may cause a slight reduction in the amount of blood reaching the brain. This may lead to dementia (known as vascular dementia). A 2018 study from the University of Colorado found that men who had slightly lower sodium levels in the blood were about 30% more likely to develop cognitive decline.
However, lowering blood pressure may help to alleviate some of the problems and reduce the risk of greater damage to your body.
Before we go here are some tips to reduce your Salt Intake Every Day
Here are some tips to help you maintain that sodium-free diet:
- Read the Nutrition Facts label.
- Prepare your own meals (and limit the salt in recipes and “instant” products).
- Buy fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables.
- Rinse canned foods containing sodium (such as beans, tuna, and vegetables).
- Add spices to your food. Instead of salt, try coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, parsley, cumin, cilantro, ginger, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, garlic or onion powder, bay leaf, oregano, dry mustard, or dill.
- Reduce portion size; less food means less salt so try stick to a low sodium diet and try to stay away from high sodium food.