Salt - the secret killer

By Janice Roberts

Many people are unaware of the hidden danger lurking in what seems like an innocent seasoning found in our everyday diets – salt. With World Salt Awareness Week running from 16-22 March, Executive Principal Officer of Liberty Medical Scheme (LMS), Andrew Edwards, advises how to protect yourself against the negative health effects of too much salt.

Too much of a good thing

While our bodies need a small amount of salt to function properly1, excessive salt can force your body to retain water. This means that your heart has to work harder to circulate blood around your body, which may cause your blood pressure to rise. This can also put strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain. South Africa has one of the highest rates of high blood pressure (hypertension) worldwide, with about 1 in 3 adults having raised blood pressure levels2. High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes and heart attacks1. There is also increasing evidence of a link between our current high salt intake and stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones and kidney disease1. “Cut down on your salt and you lower your risk of developing one of these dangerous health conditions later on,” says Edwards.

Be proactive about checking your blood pressure

Having your blood pressure checked regularly is a pro-active step to prevent having a stroke or heart attack. Says Edwards: “At Liberty Medical Scheme we believe prevention is better than cure and staying healthy means assessing how much salt you’re having and whether it’s too much over the longer term.” Once registered on the Scheme’s Chronic Disease Programme, LMS members are offered a unique treatment plan and can access relevant services and tests to assist and guide them in the management of their chronic illness.

Killer in disguise

It’s not about the salt shaker on the table – about 75% of the salt we eat is hiding in processed foods like bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals and prepared ready meals or takeaways1. In 2013, SA Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, introduced new regulations allowing for a gradual decrease in the salt content of processed food, with targets set for 2016 and 2019. “Remember foods don’t have to taste salty to have a high salt or sodium content,” says Edwards. “Read labels on the foods you eat and choose low sodium alternatives where possible.”

A teaspoon a day

Sodium is the most important ingredient to watch out for when reading food labels and looking to reduce your salt intake. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests healthy adults reduce their sodium intake to no more than 2,400 milligrams per day. This is about 1 1/4 teaspoons of sodium chloride (salt)3.

Different types of salt

“Premium” salts are not necessarily better for you. Whether it’s pink, black, comes in crystal or flake form, it still has the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt1.

Be sodium savvy

At an average of 6 – 11 g per day, South Africans consume too much salt at more than double the recommended amount2. Understanding food labels will help you to choose healthier options3:

· Sodium-free means less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving

· Very low sodium means 35 milligrams or less per serving

· Low sodium means 140 milligrams or less per serving

· Unsalted, no salt added or without added salt means no salt is added to the food. These foods are not necessarily low in sodium, because some sodium may naturally be present in the ingredients.

· Healthy means less than 360 mg sodium per serving, or no more than 480 mg per meal for meal-type products3.

Cut back gradually

At first, cutting out salt means your food may taste bland. But it only takes three weeks for our taste buds to adapt and become more sensitive to salt, so you will get to the stage where you will have the same flavour impact from less salt1. “Do a sodium audit – a rough calculation of some of the foods you eat most often on a daily basis and cut back wherever you can,” says Edwards.

Real rewards for healthy living

The Liberty Wellbeing Programme assists members in living a healthier lifestyle and is free to join for all Liberty Medical Scheme members. The Liberty Medical Scheme Chronic Medication Programme also offers access to enhanced medical benefits for most chronic and or lifestyle diseases. This includes visits to specialists and personalised calls to remind members to visit their doctor. “Ultimately members need to understand their unique current and future health risks and be guided towards positive and healthier outcomes,” says Edwards. “This professional wellbeing support service helps guide members on the path to achieving improved wellbeing.” Cutting back on salt is just one step you can make towards making a permanent, healthy lifestyle change.


1, World Action on Salt and Health.

2. The Heart Foundation of South Africa.

3.The Pulmonary Hypertension Association South Africa (PHSA)


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