8 Easy ways to lower your salt intake

Many of us love salty foods but a high sodium intake can increase your blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and other conditions. Educational Psychologist Marinda Botha looks at simple ways you can cut back on salt at home.

Throughout history, salt has had a significant role in our food supply, helping to flavour and preserve foods to improve their shelf lives.  However, over the last century, our salt intake has increased significantly with processed and convenience foods becoming more readily-available.   

How much salt is too much? 
The World Health Organisation recommends that our salt intake be less than 5 g (or 2000 mg of sodium) per day for health.  In South Africa, our salt intake is closer to 9 g per day, which is far too high.

Having a high sodium intake can increase your blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other conditions.  

Research shows that 33-46% of sodium intake is discretionary, meaning we add it voluntarily to our foods. The rest is inherent in foods such as processed, packaged and fast foods. This means that in order to decrease your salt intake, you will need a combination of two approaches: decreasing the amount of salt you are voluntarily adding to your food, and being aware of which foods already have salt added to them and moderating your intake of these.

How to lower your salt intake at home
Our National Department of Health has published regulations that require manufacturers to decrease the amount of sodium in certain categories of food to different target levels.  While the industry is working hard to achieve the sodium targets by the due dates, you can also decrease your intake of salt by following these tips:

  • If you prefer salty tastes, cut back on your salt gradually.  A preference for salty taste in learned over time, so it will take a bit of time for your palette to adapt to enjoying less salty foods
  • Choose food groups that have less sodium, like fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, milk and yoghurt.  Plain rice, oats and pasta don’t have much sodium either; their salt content goes up when salty foods are added during cooking
  • Choose to season food either during cooking or at the dinner table before eating – not at both occasions
  • Taste your food during cooking before you add salt, as it may not need it
  • If you have already added salty spices or a stock cube to your meal, it may not be necessary to add additional salt over and above this
  • Instead of using commercially prepared salad dressings, sauces and marinades, make your own at home using lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and spices.  This way you can control the amount of salt you use
  • Instead of using salt, flavour your food with herbs and unsalted spices such as lemon juice, vinegar, Italian herbs, parsley, rosemary, curry powder, paprika, pepper, garlic, ginger, chilli and onions
  • When using processed foods, check the amount of salt in the product by reading the product label.  Use this table as a guide to which foods are high, moderate and low in salt or sodium:

Click here for more tips to reduce your salt intake. 

How often do you check the sodium serving in your foods?
Did you know that Pick n Pay is committed to promoting health and wellbeing among South Africans, and employs the services of a registered dietitian to provide food and nutrition-related advice to the public?  For your nutrition and health-related queries, contact healthhotline@pnp.co.za or toll free on 0800 11 22 88.  

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