Salt | A Call To Action For Healthier Eating In South Africa

Salt Awareness: A Call To Action For Healthier Eating In South Africa

March 14, 2024

By Thandi Hallinan (RD)SA

As we mark Salt Awareness Week on the 11th of March, it becomes an important moment for us to reflect on our dietary habits. Salt, an essential nutrient that flavors our meals, has potential health risks when consumed in excess.

The salt dilemma in South Africa

South Africa, which is known for its rich culinary heritage, often finds its dishes laden with salt. While salt enhances flavor, its excessive intake is linked to increased blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, high blood pressure is a silent killer that affects one in three adults, with poor dietary choices, including high salt intake, being a significant contributor.


The global call for salt reduction

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum salt intake of 5 grams per day, roughly equivalent to one teaspoon. However, studies show that the average South African consumes almost double this amount, making the need for awareness and action more crucial than ever.


Practical tips for identifying hidden sources of salt and for reducing salt intake

While it’s well-known that table salt and salty snacks are high in sodium, many need to be made aware of the hidden sources of salt that sneak into our diet through less obvious foods. Here are common hidden sources of salt and how to avoid them:


1. Become a savvy shopper by reading labels:

Read nutrition labels on packaged foods and opt for low-sodium versions of your favorite items. Foods like bread, breakfast cereals, and canned goods can contain surprisingly high sodium levels as salt is used not only for flavoring but also as a preservative. Opting for whole, unprocessed foods or checking labels
for low-sodium options can help reduce intake. Choosing fresh, lean cuts of meat rather than deli meats and lower-sodium cheeses can make a big difference in lowering your sodium intake.


2. Mind your condiments and sauces:

Condiments, including soy sauce, ketchup, and barbecue sauce, are often high in sodium. Look for low-sodium versions or use herbs and spices to flavor your food instead.


3. Taste before you salt:

Break the habit of automatically adding salt to your food before tasting it. You might find the food is already flavorful enough.


4. Restaurant and takeaway foods:

Eating out can often lead to unknowingly eating high amounts of salt. It’s beneficial to ask for dishes to be prepared with less salt, or choose
restaurants that emphasize fresh, whole foods. Cooking from scratch and preparing meals at home allows for complete control over the amount of salt used.


5. Prioritize fresh ingredients:

Cooking with fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains can lower your salt intake. Fresh or dried herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and rosemary, as well as spices such as turmeric, paprika, cumin, and ginger, can add flavour to dishes without the need for salt.


6. Seasoning mixes and stock cubes:

Making your own stocks, broths and seasoning blends at home or using salt-free seasoning mixes can be a healthier alternative as regular store-bought mixes and stock cubes often contain a lot of salt. Adding acidity to a dish can bring out its flavors. Lemon juice works well in salads, vegetables, and fish, while various vinegars can complement soups, stews, and sauces.


7. Awareness and education

Spread the word about the risks of high salt intake and encourage friends, family, and clients to join you in making healthier food choices. The more you know about where salt hides in your diet, the better you can avoid it.


Tips for making the switch

  • Start gradually: If you’re used to a lot of salt, your palate may need time to adjust. Begin by slowly reducing the salt in recipes and increasing the use of herbs, spices, and other flavorings.
  • Experiment with flavors: Explore the wide range of flavors that herbs and spices can offer. Cooking dishes from different cuisines can introduce you to new ways of flavoring food without relying on salt.
  • Read labels carefully: When choosing low-salt or salt-free products, always read the nutritional labels to ensure they meet your dietary needs and don’t unwanted additives.


Our Role

Working for Food by Empact, we are uniquely positioned to lead by example. Offering low-sodium menu options not only caters to the health-conscious consumer but also educates the public about the possibilities of delicious, salt-aware meals. Incorporating a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods into our offerings can significantly reduce overall salt content while providing nutritional benefits. By understanding the impact of salt on our health and taking moderate its intake, we can all contribute to a healthier South Africa.

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