Know The Facts - About Salt

Salt
(pic courtesy LittleMiss Sara - flickr.com)

What is Salt?
According to Wikipedia, salt is a mineral substance composed primarily of sodium chloride, a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of ionic salts. This is sometime referred to as dietary salt which means its salt present in or added to food for human consumption.



How is Salt made?
There are two main methods of producing salt and these are
  1. evaporating sea water. This method yields lower quantities of salt and is used more for obtaining speciality or gourmet type salt
  2. mining salt from the earth. This method is used to produce the more abundant table salt and industrial salts.

Types of Salts

Sea salt: sea salt originates from seawater and is produced through a large scale evaporation process. Sea salt has a less harsh salty taste in comparison with mined salt. It also tend to have a high mineral content thereby has more and better flavour in comparison with table salt. Sea salt is more natural with little processing and no addition of additives (such as anti-caking agent).

Table salt: table salt is mined from the earth through a process called hydraulic mining. This process involves the introduction of water to the earth where the mineral is deposited. The water dissolves the salt and this solution is pumped out and then evaporated. Salt produced this way is highly refined to remove impurities, and this unfortunately depletes it of its natural minerals and ions. What is left is almost 100% sodium chloride! Additives such as anti-caking agents and iodine are sometimes added to improve quality.

Iodised salt: this is often table salt with mineral iodine added as a nutritional supplement to prevent iodine deficiency which can lead to an enlarged thyroid (goitre).

Health Concerns
Salt is a dietary mineral essential for human life in small regulated quantities. Too much or too little salt in the diet can actually cause harm and/or malfunction in the body. It is therefore important to strike the right balance of daily salt intake.

All salts contain sodium chloride, which when consumed in excess can lead to serious health issues. Many clinical researches indicate that consuming too much salt on a regular basis could lead to the development of high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Salt is used in food to enhance taste and flavour. It is also used  the processing of food particularly pickling and preserving food.

A food is considered to have high salt content if there is more than 1.5g salt per 100g total weight. Low if there is 0.3g salt per 100g total weight,

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) Persons of 11 years and above should consume between 3 to 6 g of salt per day, depending on age, sex and body mass index. Babies under 6 months should be fed no more 1g per day. Children RDA should be no more than 3g per day.

Fact: Sodium (derived from dietary sodium (NaCl), is essential for many body functions including the maintenance of fluid balance and normal function of the nervous system. Not enough sodium in the blood may lead to a condition called hyponatremia (also sometimes referred to as "water intoxication") especially when it is due to the consumption of excess water, for example during strenuous exercise, without adequate replacement of sodium.

Fact: You don't have to add salt to food to be eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods like bread, breakfast cereal, popular snacks, manufactured condiments (such as seasoning cubes) and ready meals.

Fact: Black people of African descent are particularly sensitive to the effects of too much salt and are therefore at higher risk of associated health conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke and renal failure.

Fact: There are several clinical trials which evidence that link high salt intake to the development or exacerbation of certain health conditions such as High Blood Pressure, Cardiovascular Disease (stroke, heart disease and heart failure), Kidney Disease & Kidney Stones, Obesity, Osteoporosis
Stomach Cancer, Water retention/bloating.

Fact: Sea salt and table salt both have the same negative effects on human health if consumed in excess. Though sea salt possesses some small amounts of natural minerals, the quantity is not enough to make any real impact on health and well-being.

Some Foods that can be Really High in Added Salt (NaCl) to Avoid
  • Stock cubes/powder, seasoning cubes/powder
  • Savoury snacks such as crisps (including plantain crisps), some biscuits, crackers, salted peanuts & cashew nuts etc.
  • Manufactured condiments/sauces such as pasta sauce, soy sauce, ketchup
  • Ready meals including pizzas, curries etc.
  • Processed meats and fish such as sausages, bacon, salt fish/meat, cured meat/fish, corned beef, smoked fish, smoked turkey

Some Tips on How to Reduce Salt Intake:
  • When cooking only add salt unless its absolutely critical to taste. Some vegetables such as yam and plantain may not always require salt. Serve these vegetables with a sauce or stew which has been well prepared with minimal salt. 
  • Use spices and herbs (not those with added salt) to flavour your food instead of salt
  • If you have to use manufactured condiments like bouillon cubes, use sparingly avoid daily consumption.
  • When cooking add salt at the final stage to enable the full development of other flavours. 
  • Use salt sparingly to enhance tastes and flavour not mask them.
  • Limit the use of stock or seasoning cubes or powder. If you must, then use as a substitute for salt because they contain up to 70% salt. Also reduce frequency of use, i.e. avoid regularly eating foods that contain manufactured condiments.Vary your diet to contain fresher, raw, less processed food.
  • When buying processed foods carefully check the packaging and label to gain an understanding of salt content or hidden salt content.
  • On processed foods, watch out for terms like sodium, sodium chloride, salted, brine, cured, pickled, corned, smoked on labels. These terms usually indicate that the product contains added salt.
  • Limit your consumption of processed foods with added salt.  Swap with fresh fruits or vegetables instead. Alternatively cook large batches of your own food and store in the freezer.
  • Before eating foods such as salt fish or meat, soak in water for at least 24 hours (changing the water a number of times) to remove most of the salt before cooking. Or instead, eat fresh unsalted meat or fish.


Know The Facts - About Salt



References:
  1. Action on Salt Website
  2. UK NHS Service Website
  3. UK Food Standards Agency Website


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