Salt, or sodium chloride, is a chemical compound consisting of 40% sodium and 60% chlorine. A little sodium is essential for survival. But if you consume too much (more than 2300 mg – about a teaspoon), your body pumps more water into your bloodstream in an effort to dilute the extra saltiness. Your blood volume is increased and it rushes faster through your system, causing your heart to work a lot harder and placing extra stress on blood vessel walls and the heart muscle itself. Your blood pressure rises. But high blood pressure presents no obvious external symptoms, and that’s why it’s called the ‘Silent Killer’.

According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, South Africans eat twice as much salt as they should do. One in four South Africans over the age of 15 years is affected by high blood pressure, or hypertension, and up to 30% of adults are known to be hypertension sufferers. Every hour five people suffer a heart attack, 10 people suffer a stroke and 10 of those people die. With hypertension being the single most important risk factor for stroke, it is regarded by the World Health Organization as an even greater health risk than smoking. There’s only one way to find out if your blood pressure is too high – have it tested by a professional.

Where does salt come from?

Some 55% of the salt we consume comes from sources like processed foods – bread, condiments such as soya sauce, pickles, pre-mixed sauces, fat/butter spreads, stock cubes, soup powders, breakfast cereals, smoked and processed meats such as bacon, salami and anti-pasti, canned fish preserved in brine, processed cheeses, bottled salad dressings and savoury snacks such as chips.

The good news for sufferers of high blood pressure is that you can reduce your reading by eating less salt. A study conducted at Duke University in the US revealed that 71% of the hypertensive participants managed to bring their readings to normal by cutting back on salt to less than a teaspoon a day. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that even people with healthy blood pressure should eat no more than three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt per day.

The trouble is that salt, like sugar, makes food taste great. No one wants to lose that fabulous flavour, so we have to wise up to healthy alternatives that are just as delicious. When eating out, ask for sauces to be served on the side or for your meal to be served without sauce. Ditch the flavour sachets and spice mixes that come with ready-to-cook dishes. They contain large amounts of salt. Instead, use sodium-free salt blends available at large supermarkets or health-food stores, or make your own. We like ground black pepper mixed with sodium-free dried lemon peel; a blend of oreganum, ground cumin and a shake of chilli flakes or cayenne pepper; and basil, marjoram and thyme. Or try Flora Force’s Herbal No-Sodium Salt substitute, a recipe for natural, sodium-free seasoning (we’ll provide the recipe tomorrow). It’s delicious and it’s healthy. One teaspoon of Herbal No-Sodium Salt contains just one mg of sodium, and that’s good news when you’re aiming to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium a day.

And if you’re not yet convinced that your body will love you for reducing your intake of sodium, stand firm in the knowledge that a high-salt diet can also play a major role in stroke, it can thin your bones, boost your risk of stomach cancer, impede your lung function even further if you are an asthma sufferer and cause kidney damage. So, instead of passing the salt, let it pass you by.

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.

Photo credits

  1. Original photo by FrankGeorg /