A survey by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) found that the majority of Singaporeans are eating too much salt. Findings from their latest Salt Intake Study — part of the 2010 National Nutrition Survey — revealed that eight in 10 Singaporeans are exceeding their daily intake of salt. The average individual’s daily salt intake was recorded at 8.3g, significantly more than the recommended daily intake of 5g (which is about a teaspoonful).
Why Too Much Salt Is Bad
The dangers of a high-sodium diet are varied, but potentially deadly. An elevated blood pressure is one of the risks; a repercussion of your body retaining water which subsequently leads to increased blood volume and added strain on the walls of your vessels. You may also face a 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease, warn researchers from Copenhagen University. Your blood platelets (the particles involved in clotting) swell in a high sodium environment, they say. This affects those with blood type O more than others.
An even starker warning comes from Finland where researchers from the University of Helsinki claim that the more sodium you eat, the shorter your life. They’ve found that people who reduced their sodium intake by 30 per cent lived an average of seven years longer than those whose sodium intake remained high. So cut down on salt now and you may live long enough to enjoy your CPF savings.
But Don’t Give It Up Completely
The good news is you don’t — and shouldn’t — need to swear off the white stuff totally. We do need some sodium in our diet to survive. A recent study found that too little of the mineral can actually increase your risk of death by 37 per cent! So instead of cutting it out from your diet completely, focus on eliminating super sources of salt. These lurk in some of your favourite guilty pleasures like processed foods packed in cans, bottled sauces and crackers. Benefits of a low-sodium diet? It can improve breathing and reduce exercise-induced asthma symptoms, say Colorado State University scientists. That’s worth sticking to the daily 5 gram quota for, we reckon.
Foods To Cut Down On
One way to lower your salt intake is to avoid or reduce your consumption of certain foods, and there are a number of culprits out there.
Light soy sauce
Light soy sauce contains 1,241mg of sodium per tablespoon compared to 689mg and 561mg for dark soy and sweet soy sauces respectively, according to the HPB. That’s very close to the recommended daily allowance of 1,650mg.They’re also nearly 18 per cent salt so you may want to dip in moderation.
Dried Ikan bilis
What’s a good plate of nasi lemak without some crunchy dried ikan bilis? They’re okay if you limit your intake to half a palm’s worth, or even less. Those little buggers are literally swimming in salt. "Its sodium content is 52 per cent," says Sheeba Majmudar, a dietitian from Verita Advanced Wellness. According to the HPB, that’s 2,616mg of sodium per 100g of ikan bilis. To lower its salt content, soak and wash them before cooking. Even better would be to buy the fresh variety.
Your favourite ham, sausage, bacon and salami may end up killing you. They often have up to twice the fat and 25 times the salt of unprocessed meat. Furthermore, there’s always the risk of cancer. Hot dogs, for instance, contain preservatives known as nitrites, which are proven carcinogens. But it’s not just wieners, of course. Swedish researchers found that people who eat more than 85g of processed meat daily have a 15 per cent higher risk of stomach cancer than those who eat 50g or less.
Hey, we all indulge once in a while and we know that french fries can be hard to resist. But to make them healthier, ask for no salt, says Petrina Lim, nutritionist and course manager of the diploma in baking and culinary science at Temasek Polytechnic. “One large serving of fries contains about 330mg of sodium,” she says. That single serving of fries nets you almost one-fifth of your sodium quota for the day.
Save Your Salty Dish
What happens if you’re cooking at home and accidentally added too much salt to your dish? There are a variety of ways to save your sauce or soup. One is to add a dash of sugar, lemon juice or vinegar to neutralise the excess salt. Another is to save it with potato. "Drop a raw potato into your sauce for 10 minutes and let it simmer,” says Jo Hynes of London’s La Cucina Caldesi cookery school. “The salt will bind to the tuber and restore your meal to something edible.” Remember to remove the potato before serving.
Replace With (Just) A Bit Of MSG
Despite its bad rep, monosodium glutamate (MSG), when taken in small amounts, does not pose health risks. In fact, they contain less sodium than regular salt and can be a better alternative if you wish to keep your sodium intake low without losing out on taste. MSG consists of naturally-found compounds called glutamic acid and sodium. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, a building block of protein that is used to enhance the flavour of food. This is why foods containing glutamic acid, such as mushroom, are naturally flavourful.