Many South Africans may unwittingly end up eating too much salt this winter as they indulge in ready-made soups, stews and other foods high in sodium, thus set themselves up for long-term chronic health problems like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (CVD), warns the country’s leading supplier of CVD medication.
“As winter takes over South Africa, many of us are warming up with hot packet soups, stews and gravies made with stock cubes, cooked breakfasts that feature bacon and sausages, and plenty of hot, buttered toast to go with it all. In addition to many of these foods already being high in salt – especially ready-made versions – we add table salt automatically to our meals,” says Mariska Fouché, Pharma Dynamics’ public affairs manager.
“Without realising it, you could easily eat 40g of salt a day, more than eight times the government and the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 5g or about a teaspoon full. It is estimated that the average South African eats at least double the RDA every day, which is helping to fuel the skyrocketing rates of high blood pressure and heart disease in our country. The statistics show that about 130 of us will die from a heart attack every day of the year, while at least 240 of us will suffer debilitating strokes.”
Pharma Dynamics has issued the warning as part of its Cooking from the Heart project, which was launched last year (in conjunction with the Heart and Stroke Foundation) with a heart-friendly cookbook featuring many favourite local dishes that award-winning cookbook author and food expert Heleen Meyer reworked to be lower in salt, fat and sugar. Cooking from the Heart is part of the group’s wider iChange4Health campaign, which encourages South Africans to eat healthier diets, take more exercise, stop smoking and cut down on alcohol use.
“Too much salt is closely linked to increased blood pressure, which is a major factor in heart disease,” explains Fouché.
“The body carefully regulates its salinity and works to remove excess salt. But, simply put, excess salt leads to water retention, which increases blood pressure inside blood vessel walls.
“Fortunately, cutting back on salt can combat these effects.
“Start by looking at the salt content of the foods you buy and by weaning yourself gradually off adding salt to everything you eat. Instead of imparting flavour with salt, try herbs and spices instead. Your taste buds will soon adapt to a lower-salt diet – and your body with thank you for it.”
In March this year the government amended the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1976 to require processed foods like bread, butter, cereals, chips, snacks, ham, salami, bacon, sausages, soup powder, gravy powder, two-minute noodles, stock cubes and jelly all to be lighter in sodium by 2019. The change is part of the plan by the health department to curtail diseases linked to high salt consumption.
“Many consumers are unaware of everyday foods that can be high in salt because they only think of salt in terms of the salt they add at the table,” says Meyer.
“Be sure to read the labels of especially the following foods: powdered soups, stocks and gravies; sauces and spreads like soy, mustard, mayonnaise and tomato sauce; processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages, viennas, polony and salami; cheeses like feta, parmesan and cheddar; snacks like popcorn, pretzels, peanuts and chips; pickled foods like olives and gherkins; bread and cereals; anchovies and smoked fish; and ready-made meals including instant pasta sauces and pizzas. Just because something doesn’t taste ‘salty’ it doesn’t mean that it is low in salt. Even ‘sweet’ foods can contain salt because it acts as a preservative that prolongs shelf life.
“Some foods may be relatively low in sodium, such as bread which currently contains 4.8g per loaf, but we tend to eat large quantities of it, thus pushing up our salt intake.”
Fouché says that a diet high in salt has been linked to numerous diseases, including kidney disease and osteoporosis or thinning of the bones, a disease that affects elderly women in particular.
“A certain amount of salt is necessary for good health,” she says. “But you probably get enough sodium naturally from foods that already contain it, without eating too many processed foods or adding even more salt to your meals.”
Meyer is so passionate about helping ordinary South Africans eat better that she will be offering advice about food and how to cut down on salt on the Cooking from the Heart SA Facebook page during June 2013. (facebook.com/CookingFromTheHeartSA)
Consumers can find out more about iChange4Health by visiting www.ichange4health.co.za where they can also download their free copy of theCooking from the Heart cookbook
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