Dear Wellness Seeker,
Why should you reduce salt in your diet?
Sodium is consumed as dietary salt and vital for multiple physiological processes. Sodium is an essential nutrient, crucial in the transmission of nerve impulses and maintaining the body’s fluid and acid-base balance. However, excessive salt intake reduces the ability for fluid to be released and adds a strain onto the blood vessels. Thus, salt is a major cause of hypertension and possibly responsible for the estimated 2.5 million deaths by non-communicable diseases in 2015. Based on these findings, the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends reducing salt intake to less than 5g/day.
Salt naturally occurs in most foods; however, excessive amounts are predominantly found in condiments, pre-made and processed items. For example, a single portion of take-away meals exceed more than half the 5g/day target and some meals surpass the recommended daily intake value by more than 200%. Thus, reducing global salt consumption has become a challenge since 1 in 5 individuals consume non-regulated take-away meals each week. This is further hindered as accumulating scientific evidence has generated controversy by challenging current dietary guidelines and the health effects associated with global salt reduction, which may have a major impact on public health and salt reduction strategies.
Salt reduction initiatives would also be most beneficial for salt-sensitive individuals, however, more research regarding a precise cut-off point would be valuable to ensure that the recommended guideline can be applied to this population group. Salt sensitivity is believed to be caused by a complex link between environmental and genetic influences. Studies suggest that salt sensitivity is characterised by an increase in arterial pressure due to an impairment in the function of the kidney. However, the genes involved in this susceptibility to salt and the underlining mechanism has not been identified. There is currently no universal definition for this disorder, consequently, a practical clinical diagnostic test is unavailable. Until then, it is crucial for individuals, globally, to reduce salt consumption in case they are unknowingly predisposed to salt sensitivity to reduce causing further harm to their health.
Fundamentally, reductions in salt intake require an adequate level of health literacy. This is characterised by individuals having the cognitive skills to access, understand, appraise and utilise information/services to take responsibility for their health. Therefore, low levels of health literacy may impede an individual’s ability to interpret and understand the nutritional information provided by salt reduction campaigns to take control of managing their health. Consequently, inequalities among the population need to be addressed especially among low-socioeconomic groups to enhance the effectiveness of salt reduction programs.
Limited knowledge regarding food preparation and low culinary skills may disaffiliate dietary change. Studies determined that poor cooking skills were correlated with poor diet quality and the frequent consumption of take-out meals. Due to time scarcity, the majority of the population has adopted time-saving behaviours to avoid food preparation time contributing to the increased consumption of packaged and take-out meals. Even if regulated, they may still contribute to high salt intakes due to large portion sizes consumed. Moreover, low self-efficacy causes individuals to doubt their cooking ability and discourages their motivation to cook with raw ingredients and would rather opt for easy pre-made meals.
Furthermore, food policies should work in conjunction with the food industry, to make labelling on all items mandatory along with the reformulation of high salt food items. Achieving this may reduce social inequities as the requirement for consumers with sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to understand nutritional information and calculate portion sizes may be reduced. Finally, regular monitoring may ensure the food industry is adhering to the legislation, to promote effective reductions in salt intakes among the population. However, further research may be required to ensure that individuals will still attain the necessary amount of salt for physiological processes to avoid the oncome of harmful effects.
To your Best Life,
Felicia Gaitanos MSc
Your Chenot Wellness Team