What is Salt?
Salt is referred here as table salt, which contains sodium chloride. Table salt is the biggest source of sodium that we consume in our diet.
Over consumption of salt is the most significant factor of causing high blood pressure (hypertension) and increasing the chances of developing heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
Why too much salt is bad for our health?
Consuming high quantity of salt directly causes high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure is defined as the force exerts on the inside walls of the blood vessels when blood flows through them. Blood pressure of 140/90 mm of mercury or higher is considered as high blood pressure. The ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mm of mercury or lower.
Kidneys are responsible to remove the extra water and waste in the form of urine. When we consume too much salt, our kidneys have to retain more fluid/water to maintain the electrolyte balance in the body. The increase in fluid results in increasing the volume of the blood that requires more rigorous and harder pumping by heart. This harder pumping of blood exerts increase stress on heart and the force on the inside walls of blood vessels and the organs where blood is supplied. Consequently, it can cause damage to the blood vessels and the organs (e.g. Kidneys).
Having high blood pressure over long period increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke or kidney disease.
Therefore it is extremely important to keep the blood pressure within the acceptable range. Reducing salt in-take is considered as the simplest medical intervention to maintain blood pressure in healthy range.
According to WHO estimates, about 2.5 million deaths can be prevented globally every year if the world complies with the recommended salt consumption levels.
How much salt should we consume?
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming not more than 5 gms/day of total salt (equal to around 1 tea spoon from all sources). Additionally, WHO recommends consuming not less than 3.5 gms/ day of potassium. Consuming high quantity of salt and less quantity of potassium can result in high blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Scientific evidence suggests that consuming salt less than 5 gms per day would not have any negative impact on the normal functioning of our body rather improve our health in the long-term.
Children diet should even contain less salt. Children kidneys are smaller and not prepared to maintain the delicate electrolyte balance.
Infants who are fed on mother milk do not require additional quantity of salt as mother milk contains minute quantity of salt naturally, which is enough to support the normal functioning and growth of the babies.
How much salt do we consume?
In fact, we eat too much salt than what we require – some people consume even double or triple the required quantity (9 gms – 15 gms/ day).
Our body requires a small quantity of salt every day for normal functioning. Salt is naturally present in almost all foods e.g. meat, chicken, vegetables, fruits and milk etc. It is unlikely that we may not obtain the required salt quantity naturally from the food we eat rather than adding too much quantity in the diet.
Salt is hidden in almost everything we eat, such as bread, meat, vegetables, drinks, snacks, pickles, chutneys etc. All processed food (canned food) contain higher quantity of salt. Even in the bread (roti) contains salt.
In Pakistan, most people consume much more salt than what is required.
Reducing salt in diet requires a conscious and continuous action. There are many simple ways of reducing salt in-take. Following are some suggestions:
- Do not eat many supporting items /condiments (Chutney/ Pickle/ Yogurt/ Sauce) all at the same time. They all contain additional salt. Try just one of them with the main dish
- When preparing rice with lentils or curry, do not add salt while preparing the rice since salt will be there in the lentils and curry
- Stop sprinkling salt – remove salt sprinkler from dining table
- Do not consume salty snacks too often (Chips/ fries/ spicy items) – instead eat fruits as snacks
- When eating out, select choices which contain less salt
- Do not drink soda drinks – they are high in sugar as well as in sodium bicarbonate salt