Are you like me, confused from the amount of information we have been given recently about the amount of salt in our food and how it can affect our health. We are told having too much salt causes health problems but then again too little can also be detrimental to our health
Salt consists of about 40 per cent sodium and is a mineral, in virtually all-basic foods – from fruits and vegetables to common tap water, sodium is present in small amounts.
For maintaining good health we all do need some sodium in our diet, but too much, and especially continuous high amounts causes high blood pressure, this greatly increases the risk of developing heart disease and strokes.
I believe more and more of us are aware of these health risks due to recent media coverage, but lesser known is that it is also linked to stomach cancer and brittle bones. Water retention is also a side effect.
The latest information we have been given is that consuming too much salt in out diet can give you ulcers, according to new research carried out. Ulcers affect one in eight people’s health in Britain, and salt has been found to help nurture the bacteria behind most stomach ulcers, leading to symptoms ranging from mild burning sensations to actually vomiting blood.
Many of these cases are caused by the Heliobacter pylori bacterium, which tricks the stomach into the over production of acid, hence causing ulcers and ill health. Researchers at the American Health Sciences University, found that high levels of salt are causing genetic changes in this bug making it all the more powerful, and warned that we should all learn about the health risks associated with too much salt.
The food Standards Agency recommends that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt, which is equivalent to around 2.5g of sodium. For children, obviously it varies with age as shown in the table below
up to 6 months old – less than — 1g — 0.4 mg
6 – 12 months — 1g — 0.4mg
1-3 year olds — 2g — 800mg
4-6 year olds — 3g — 1.2g
7-10 year olds — 5g — 2g
Children over 11 years — 6g — 2.4g
An easy way to calculate salt from sodium, is to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5, this can be very helpful when calculating the amount of salt on some food products where labelling is confusing.
Naturally, parents should not add salt to children’s food and definitely not to babies as their kidneys are unable to process high levels of it, and in fact it has been known that too much of it has been fatal in children under the age of one.
We are becoming aware that for good health we should know exactly what salt we are consuming in our diet, but it is difficult today to know just how much as more and more people today eat ready meals and processed foods, and these products do not always have clear and precise quantities shown.
Food manufacturers are adding sodium to many types of food that we would never have dreamt contained it, or of the quantity, because apparently our palette ‘taste buds’ have changed over the years saying that consumers expect this ‘taste’ now. Our taste buds are generally a good guide to how salty our food is, but manufacturers also frequently use sugars in these foods that disguise the saltiness and fools our taste buds!
Experts now say that generally only 6 per cent of salt is actually added to food at the table, 9 per cent added while cooking and a whopping 75 per cent of all what we consume comes from processed foods and this includes bread, puddings and breakfast cereals.
Health professionals have been campaigning for clear labelling of the quantity used in the manufacturing of foods and for greater awareness of the health concerns with eating too much salt, and I hope after reading this article you will be more familiar with the health concerns attributed to high salt consumption.
So now we all need to get used to scrutinising product labels, and remember not to confuse salt with sodium when doing this. A high salt product is one with 1.5g (0.6g sodium) or higher content per 100g of product, so anything with a lower level is a much healthier choice, and obviously the lower the content all the better for your good health.
If you are a fan of the salt cellar and regularly add it to your food, the best way to cut down on this is to give your taste buds an alternative healthier flavour enhancer. There are many you can try, garlic is one, black pepper freshly ground is excellent, try using lemon juice or fresh herbs and spices to add great taste. Chilli is also another good one to try but is an acquired taste.
Another way to wean yourself of too much is to gradually reduce the amount you are adding to your food, allowing your taste buds to adjust.
Hyponatremia is a condition when someone has a lack of sodium, and when this is left untreated can cause dizziness, confusion and unexplained tiredness.
Hyponatremia is more likely to affect the elderly, especially if they are using diuretics. Diuretic drugs are used to treat problems such as high blood pressure and heart conditions, reducing the level of excess fluid in the body that can affect the essential body salt (or electrolytes) levels that are needed to maintain good health and vital functions.
Only this year a marathon runner died not long after finishing his race, and the diagnosis was due to drinking so much water, that by urinating and sweating profusely he had lost too many body salts.
So obviously there is a worry that some over zealous health conscientious people might cut down too low on salt intake and cause problems for themselves. Eating a healthy balanced diet is always best for good health.
So like myself now, do not forget to make it a habit to read your food product labels including bread whether you purchase it from a bakery or supermarket as it is always included in the ingredients, to make sure you are only eating the healthy required amount. I know this can be confusing and tedious but it is for our advantage.
Sandra and Ted Wosko