Monday, 30 July 2012

'Can you pass the salt please?'

When having a meal it is not uncommon for someone to ask for extra salt. This widely used condiment enhances the flavour of food and can be found in almost every household. Salt is an economical way of adding an extra zing to our food but it is also an essential component that the human body needs to function.

Salt, which is made up of sodium and chloride, cannot be produced by the human body. The human body needs these minerals for various physiological processes such as maintaining a good fluid balance and enabling electrical impulses through body. Because salt plays such an important role in our body we need to find ways of consuming these minerals, which is why we add it to our food.

Even though salt is good in the way that it may enhance the flavour of our food and it also helps our body function, we need to be careful about the amount of salt we consume as having too much of it can cause damage to our body.

The thing about salt is that it likes water, so every time we consume salt our body is retaining water. This retention causes additional pressure in our blood vessels. When there is too much pressure then our blood vessels start to get damaged.

This damage causes inflammation in the blood vessels which then affects the blood flow and leads to hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. What we also have to remember is that we cannot feel if we start to develop hypertension. That is why we have to be careful about how much salt we take in.

The Department of Health recommends that the daily salt intake for an adult be less than 6g. This is equivalent to one teaspoon. However, adults in the UK, on average, consume 8.1g of salt a day. Most importantly, we also need to be weary about the processed products we buy, as they are the ones that typically contain more salt. In fact, 75-80% of the salt we eat daily is already ‘hidden’ in the foods we buy, before we add any at the table!

So how can we reduce the salt content of what we eat? Well, look at the labels on foods before you buy them to check their salt content, especially everyday items such as cereals, soups, sauces, tinned products and stock cubes. Try cooking from scratch, so you can keep an eye on how much salt you are adding. To add flavour to food, use alternative seasonings such as herbs, spices, pepper and chilli flakes. And if you still need that salty flavour, try a reduced sodium salt, such as LoSalt, which has two thirds less sodium chloride than regular table, sea and rock salts.

By Yancy Jensen

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