Six Facts to Know About the Intake of Salt in Our Daily Diet and Tips on How to Stay Safe in This Pandemic Period
Written by Arundhathi Enamela
Edited by Vijay Suryavanshi and Nikol Nikolova
After Pfizer, it was Moderna seeking the emergency approval of their COVID-19 vaccine.¹ For the average person, doctors, nurses and paramedical staff, this was gospel news and a major milestone that brings an antidote of relief, specifically at a time when medical staff are working long hours and giving their all in the wake of this pandemic. Upon the FDA’s authorization, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is allowed to be distributed in billions of doses globally which is the need of the hour.
1. WHO Efforts on Health Awareness
While the efforts at every international level have been ongoing, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) working on spreading health awareness and hygiene on one side, pharmaceutical companies working on research on the other side, medical clinics taking care of COVID-19 affected patients and common people taking care of their families while staying home, it all comes down to one main point of discussion — having a healthy diet to prevent long-term illnesses, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
We know very well about our intake of salt on a daily basis. You may be thinking, is salt so important that we need to discuss it? Yes. Absolutely. There are essential minerals in salt that act as electrolytes in the body. They help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function. There are many varieties of salt:
- Iodized salt
- Kosher salt
- Sea salt
- Low-sodium salt
- Table salt
- Himalayan pink salt
Most of these are rich in calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and iodine. If you would like to know which one is the healthiest, they’re all quite similar.
2. Salt Consumption
How much salt do you consume every day? Research and medical studies have shown that more than 2 grams per day and less than 3.5 grams (high sodium consumption) can cause high blood pressure.
The main source of sodium is salt, which is used globally. WHO Member States have been working on reducing the global population’s intake of salt by 30% by the year 2025. Most people have the habit of eating too much salt — nearly 9–12 grams per day — and that is around twice the recommended maximum amount.
3. Where is Salt Found in Our Food?
We add salt in our daily cooking and the amount we add is usually, as the saying goes, salt according to taste. In processed foods and ready-to-eat foods, the ratio of salt is as per the quantity and ingredients added to it. Sometimes, you may find it adequate. Additionally, there are saturated fats, sugars and trans fats.
Some like it to be more while others may want it to be a little less or moderate. With regards to our diet, adding fruits and vegetables helps to regulate our blood pressure. When buying ready-to-eat foods, it is recommended to look at food labels carefully and pick products that are low in sodium.
Salt in our diet can come from processed foods, either because they are particularly high in salt (such as ready meals, processed meats like bacon, ham and salami, cheese, salty snacks and instant noodles, among others) or because they are consumed frequently in large amounts (such as bread and processed cereal products).
Salt is also added to food during cooking (bouillon and stock cubes) or at the table (soy sauce, fish sauce and table salt).
However, some manufacturers are reformulating recipes to reduce the salt content of their products and consumers are advised to always read food labels.
4. WHO’s Recommendation to Reduce Salt
WHO recommends that adults can consume less than a teaspoon salt per day and for children aged 2–15 years, the recommended level is based on their energy needs. Furthermore, it is important to note that iodized salt is essential for healthy brain development.
At home, we can avoid the use of salt shakers, limit the consumption of salty snacks, avoid or reduce salt in the preparation of food and choose products with low sodium content. It is also important to bring awareness to our families about the excessive consumption of salt.
5. Understanding Salt, Sodium and Potassium
Sodium is present in milk, meat and shellfish and it is also found in processed foods — bread, processed meat, snack foods, soy sauce, fish sauce etc.
It is an important ingredient that improves cell function, helps in the maintenance of plasma volume, acid-balance and transmission of nerve impulses in our body.
Potassium is widely available in a variety of unrefined foods and these include fruits and vegetables. This is an essential nutrient required to maintain total body fluid volume, normal cell function and acid and electrolyte balance. However, the increased intake of potassium can result in high blood pressure.
Reducing salt in our diet is certainly good practice and it works for improving our health. Our focus should always be on consuming an adequate quantity of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet.
6. Myths About Salt
Myth: A person requires more salt on hot and humid days when they sweat.
Truth: This is not true as there’s very little salt lost through sweat and there’s no need for extra salt in hot and humid climates. Simply drink a lot of water.
Myth: Sea salt is healthier than table salt.
Truth: This is untrue as sea salt and table salt have the same nutritional value. (2,400 mg of sodium per spoon)
Myth: Salt added during cooking is not the actual intake of salt.
Truth: It is a fact that 80% of salt in our diet is consumed from processed foods.
Myth: Some say that food does not require salt for an appealing flavour.
Truth: It depends on the taste and the individual’s preference.
Myth: Food offers flavour without salt.
Truth: It may appear to be true, but again it depends on the person’s taste preference.
Myth: Food that doesn’t taste salty doesn’t have a high level of salt.
Truth: This is important to note as many foods don’t taste very salty because they are mixed with other ingredients like sugar. It is vital to read the labels.
Myth: Seniors need not be concerned about their intake of salt.
Truth: This is not true. Consuming more salt than what is recommended can increase blood pressure at any age.
Myth: Lowering our intake of salt can have a negative impact on our health.
Truth: Seeing how most of the foods that we eat have salt in them, eating too little salt is often not an issue.
Continuous improvements in global health are always important and making a note to consume salt watchfully on a daily basis is a good practice. Initially, it may be a challenge to lower the salt levels or consume less salty snacks, but in the long term when you substitute salty snacks with healthier foods like fruits, nuts, legumes and grains, you will experience tremendous benefits in your physical health.