A dash of salt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2008, 12:00am

The World Health Organisaton has put out guidelines on the amount of sodium we should have daily, but few comply

The world's food is still too salty and too many countries are still ignoring the World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines on what should be a healthy level of salt in our daily diet so says a press statement released by the University of Warwick, UK.

Professor Franco Cappuccio's report on Reducing Salt Intake in Populations found that few countries are following the WHO's target of less than 5 grams salt a day. Some countries have developed their own higher targets for salt intake while others do not currently have any national recommendation on salt.

The UK recommendation is for less than 6g/day. The situation is worse in Asia. Nutritional recommendations were found for four countries and they ranged from less than 5 g/day in Singapore to less than 10 g/day of salt in Japan.

Why worry about salt?

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. The reason we should watch the amount of salt we eat is because it contains sodium and having too much sodium may contribute towards high blood pressure (hypertension), which increases the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

Do we need sodium in our diet?

We all need some sodium. Our bodies use it to maintain the balance of fluids, regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses and relax the heart and other muscles.

How much is too much?

Most of us consume much more sodium than we need. On average we eat around 3.7g sodium a day (9.5g of salt). To put this into perspective, 6g salt is only a teaspoonful.

What happens when we eat too much salt?

If we're healthy, our kidneys can regulate the level of sodium in our body: if we eat more than we need, we can excrete any excess. However, if our kidneys aren't functioning efficiently because of disease, excess sodium can't be excreted and as a result our ability to maintain fluid balance is affected thus resulting in oedema - swelling - in the face, legs, ankles and feet.

Hypertension-sodium connection

High blood pressure can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. A few people are sodium sensitive, for them, eating too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure and its related problems. Eating less sodium, however, won't hurt and doing so may even prevent high blood pressure.