A pinch and a dash of salt can easily add up to unhealthy levels of sodium, especially when many food already contain more than enough sodium. When it comes to eating, many of us are prone to reaching out for the salt shaker to season our food. Excess salt intake is associated with many health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney stones. It is also the reason that many people suffer from fluid retention.

The first thing that you should be aware of is the fact that sodium is necessary for a healthy person. It serves to keep the fluids balanced correctly in the body also influences the way the muscles relax and contract. It will work towards transmitting nerve impulses and it can be an important part of the way we can regulate our moods and cravings. However, we consume far too much of it isn't good at all.

Read on to find out the health problems associated with high salt intake, food to avoid and how to ensure you have a low sodium diet.


Salt intake in everyday diet

  • Five per cent is added when cooking
  • Six per cent is added after cooking
  • 12 per cent comes from natural sources
  • 77 per cent from process or prepared food


Health problems

When a person has a diet that is high in salt, they are at risk of increasing their chances of certain health problems.

Increase of blood pressure - The more sodium in your blood, the more blood volume increases because sodium attracts and retains water.

Osteoporosis – Report shows that a high salt diet does reduce bone density.

Gastric (stomach) cancer – Associated with high levels of salt.

Heart problems - Researchers at the University of Naples, Italy, and the University of Warwick, UK, have found a direct relationship between high salt intake and strokes.

Electrolyte disturbance – This can cause neurological problems.

Kidney failure and heart disease – Salt is processed by the kidneys, but when we eat too much of it, none of it can be processed and the excess ends up in the blood stream. Because the mineral retains water, the volume of blood in the body increases. As a result, the circulatory system has to work harder to pump the blood. Over time, this added strain on the system can result in heart disease and kidney failure.

Death – Consuming large amounts of salt in a short time (1g per kg of body weight) can be fatal, salt solution was once used as a method of suicide in ancient China.


Food to avoid

  • Canned foods (fish, soup and vegetable)
  • Salty chips, nuts, pretzels
  • Ready to eat cereals
  • Cured and salted meats
  • Butter
  • Instant noodles
  • Frozen foods
  • Sauces – soy, fish, oyster and dressings
  • Pickled foods


Low sodium diet

Having a diet that is low in sodium has many health benefits; however, salt shouldn’t be cut out entirely. This is because it is a necessary component of any diet and is required by the body to regulate water content. Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication (water poisoning).

It also aids the movement of muscles (one of the reasons it comes out in sweat), balancing body fluids and transmitting information in the nervous system.

The most important benefit of a low-sodium diet is cardiovascular health. The system works better when the blood is not full of excess salt, especially the heart.


How to cut salt?

Your taste for salt is an acquired one, so it's definitely reversible. To unlearn this salty savouring, decrease your use of it gradually and your taste buds will adjust to it eventually. Most people find that after a few weeks of cutting salt, they no longer miss it.

  • Eat more fresh food
  • Eat less processed foods
  • Choose low-sodium products
  • Remove salt from recipes when possible
  • Limit salty condiments
  • Use herbs, spices and flavourings to enhance food