Dietitian speaks of salt’s negative impact

2019-03-14 06:00
Laurinda Nel, a registered dietitian

Laurinda Nel, a registered dietitian

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What is your understanding of World Salt Awareness Week? This is an internationally driven campaign to educate the public about the dangers of taking in too much salt or sodium chloride.

Why is it important that awareness be created around this topic? Research has shown that a high intake of salt in the diet can lead to conditions such as hypertension, strokes and heart failure, but there is also more evidence that can link high salt intake to stomach cancers, kidney stones, osteoporosis, obesity and kidney disease.

What are the pros and cons of salt?


. Salt contains essential minerals that act as very important electrolytes in the body, which helps with fluid balance, muscle function and nerve transmission.

. Salt can improve the flavour of food.

. Salt is also known for its anti-bacterial properties.

The negative side of consuming salt is more linked to excessive salt intake. Why? Water follows salt or sodium chloride in the body. This leads to an increase in the volume of blood in the arteries and an increase of fluid around the cells. Once there is an increase in blood volume it means there is more pressure in your blood vessels and more pressure on your heart. Over time, this can lead to your blood vessels stiffening and your heart working harder, ultimately leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

How much salt should an adult consume daily? Adults should consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (2 g of sodium).

How much salt should a child consume daily?

. zero to 12 months: Less than 1 g of salt per day

. one to three years: 2 g of salt per day

. four to six years: 3 g of salt per day

How much is too much in terms of salt consumption? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), consuming more than 1 teaspoon of salt per day is seen as too much.

What advice would you give people trying to cut down their salt consumption? Firstly, I would focus on educating people on reading food labels. People tend to consume a lot of hidden salt, and they are often surprised on the amount of sodium consumed. They can use the following guide when reading labels: low salt – less than 120 mg sodium per 100 g; moderate salt – 120 to 600 mg per 100 g; and high salt – more than 600 mg sodium per 100 g. Secondly, I would encourage them to focus on consuming more fresh products and fewer products that come pre-packed in boxes, tins or ready-made forms. Thirdly, I would recommend the use of fresh or dried herbs or spices that do not contain sodium chloride, such as curry, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and so on.

What does a blood pressure reading mean? Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, one over the other. Systolic blood pressure is always on the top and indicates the pressure in the arteries once the heart contracts. The diastolic blood pressure (DBP) is the bottom reading and reflects the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting in-between beats.

. normal and optimal blood pressure: 120/80 mmHg;

. pre-hypertension: 120-139/80-89 mmHg;

. hypertension: 140 and higher/90 and higher.

Tell us more about hypertension/high blood pressure? The WHO defines hypertension/high blood pressure as a high or raised pressure in the blood vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels or arteries. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, more than one out of three adults in South Africa lives with hypertension/high blood pressure. Shockingly, high blood pressure is responsible for one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks. High blood pressure is thus known as a “silent killer” as one rarely shows symptoms of it.

How can this be treated? Pre-hypertension and hypertension can be treated by either making lifestyle changes through your diet, whether it is a low salt diet or weight-loss intervention, usually with the use of medication prescribed by a medical doctor.

How often should one have one’s blood pressure tested? The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends testing your blood pressure at least once a year, no matter your age, health, fitness level or lifestyle.

Is a high intake of salt the only cause of high blood pressure? Other than high salt intake through the diet, there are multiple other risk factors that can lead to one having high blood pressure such as age, race, family history, being overweight or obese, not being physically active, smoking, excessive use of alcohol, stress and chronic medical conditions.

The celebration of World Salt Awareness Week from 4 to 10 March again highlighted the possible deadly effects of a high sodium chloride intake. Tasmin Cupido got the low-down on the global campaign and the negative impact salt has from Laurinda Nel, a registered dietitian at Vergelegen Dietitians.


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