In 2016 the emphasis of World Salt Awareness Week is on hidden salt. This is the salt in our foods that we don’t see or even taste, but that still contributes to our total salt intake. To help the public evaluate their salt intake, HSFSA and Unilever South Africa will also introduce a first in SA – a digital salt calculator.
Salt and health
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily salt limit of 5 grams per day (about one teaspoon). In a 2011 South African study more than half of adults exceeded 10 grams salt a day, at least doubling this recommendation1. The main consequence of excessive salt intake is raised blood pressure, which in turn leads to heart diseases and strokes. In fact the WHO regards raised blood pressure as the single biggest contributor to heart diseases worldwide2.
Given that a devastating 1 in every 3 adults in South Africa suffer from high blood pressure, a reduction in salt intake is an easy win to prevent high blood pressure, improve existing high blood pressure, and thereby reduce the 220 fatalities from heart disease and strokes every day.
Salt and our food
The food we buy already contains salt. In fact 55% of the salt we consume is from salt added during the manufacturing process. Often we cannot see the salt, neither can we taste it – hence the term hidden salt. In higher-income communities the contribution of hidden salt can be as high as 75% of total salt intake3. Hidden salt includes much more than potato chips, take-outs and boerewors. Foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, ready-made meals, sauces, spreads, cheeses and processed meats all contain hidden salts and can increase salt intake considerably.
Reducing salt intake requires two broad approaches: reduce salt added to food during manufacturing, and reduce the excessive use of salt and salty products at home.
Salt legislation is around the corner
In 2013 Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi signed progressive legislation to reduce the salt content of a range of highly salted foods in South Africa. June 2016 is the first deadline for this stepwise reduction programme. With only 3 months to go, all eyes will be on South Africa as the first country to legislate such a wide range of foods. Early indications suggest that industry is making excellent progress towards it.
Is salt legislation enough?
On its own legislation will reduce per capita salt intake by 0.85 g per day. Whilst this is enough to start a shift in cardiovascular mortality, much more is needed4. The next step is to empower consumers to buy lower salt options and use less salt at home.
Empowering South Africans to know their own salt intake
When 1 000 South Africans were asked whether they believed they eat too much salt, 83% said no. Yet the study results further showed that 75% in reality consumed excessive salt5. Hidden salt is the main reason for this discrepancy, as salt you cannot taste or see is not fully accounted for.
The HSFSA in partnership with Unilever South Africa is introducing a new salt calculator to help South Africans evaluate their salt intake to start making better food choices. The salt calculator estimates salt intake based on the frequency by which common foods are consumed, and then provides feedback on current intake and tips on making better food choices.
Hlanzeka Mpanza, dietitian at Unilever says “Only when you know which particular foods in your diet contributes the most to your total intake, can you effectively cut down on hidden salt. You can start to choose lower salt options by comparing products”.
HSFSA encourages members of the public to use the new salt calculator to measure their salt intake, and to start making changes. The equation is simple: check your salt – change your salt.
The salt calculator went live on Monday 29 February at www.saltcalculator.co.za