Eat Well : Shake off the salt

The average Malaysian adult consumes 7.15g of salt in a day (Photo from

Reduce salt intake to stay healthy

BOTH my parents were diagnosed with high blood pressure when I was 13. They were advised by their doctor to cut down on their salt intake and so mum cooked meals with less salt.

The positive outcome was that they were able to manage their high blood pressure while I developed a taste for foods cooked with less salt from a young age.

Salt is an essential component in the functioning of cells in our body and we can’t survive without it. The main ingredient in salt is sodium.

The World Health Organisation recommends a salt intake of no more than 5g per day, which is roughly the equivalent of one teaspoon for adults.

Sometimes you may hear the word sodium being used interchangeably with salt. Salt is actually sodium chloride. To be clear, 5g of salt is the same as 2,000mg of sodium.

The Ministry of Health estimates that the average Malaysian adult consumes 7.15g of salt in a day.

Where does all that salt come from? Well, a lot of our salt come from processed food that have become convenient for us in our fast-paced lifestyle. Also, many of us nowadays tend to eat out rather than cook at home.


Some people are more susceptible to developing high blood pressure if they consumed too much salt. Some people who already have high blood pressure are also “salt-sensitive” in that a high salt intake will cause their blood pressure to soar.

Salt adds flavour but use it sparingly (Photo from

According to the ministry, it is estimated that one in three adults suffer from high blood pressure.

It also estimates that one out of five adults may already be having high blood pressure but have yet to be diagnosed. Having high blood pressure puts us at risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Scientists believe that salt increases blood pressure because the sodium attracts water and causes fluid retention. The additional fluid retained expands the volume of blood in your arteries, which then puts pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, resulting in elevated blood pressure.

But wait a minute! Salt adds flavour to our food and makes it taste good.

From a diet stand point, it is important to find ways to cut down on your salt intake because it is one of the habits you are in control of — to ensure that your body maintains healthy blood pressure levels.


Here are some tips that will make a big difference in the long run:

* Studies show that people who read food nutrition labels do make better food choices. When you look at the label, you will notice a %Daily Value column next to the amount of sodium that is listed. The %Daily Value tells you how much percentage of sodium you would have consumed as part of your total for the day. A %Daily Value of 5 per cent or less means the serving of that packaged food is low. If it is 20 per cent and above, then it is high.

* Look for food products that are “sodium free”, “very low sodium”, “light in sodium” or “unsalted”. In order for a food product manufacturers to use these claims on their label, they would have to assure that the sodium content is low as these claims are regulated by government agencies of countries.

* Go for fresh produce such as fresh vegetables, fruit, meat or beans instead of the canned variety. Anytime a food is processed or canned, the sodium content will be higher. If you are buying canned foods, try to get the low sodium variety as much as possible.

* Frozen vegetables or fruit is a better choice than the canned variety as it does not contain any added salt. I always have frozen vegetables in my freezer to quickly make meals when I don’t have time to get fresh vegetables.

* Cut back on fast food intake. Do not use fast food to reward your children as they will place an emotional value to it and this will make it a hard habit to break next time.

* Don’t unnecessarily add salt by way of habit. There is absolutely no need to add salt when you’re cooking rice in the rice cooker, boiling pasta or making your oats.

* Remove the salt shaker or soya sauce bottle from the table, so you won’t be tempted to add more salt to your dishes at meal time.

Use fresh herbs to cook instead of seasoning with salt (Photo from

* Use more herbs and spices in your cooking to add robust flavour instead of relying on bottled sauces and seasoning cubes — all of which are primarily high in sodium.

* Carbonated drinks taste sweet, so we only think of the sugar content in them. But due to the carbonation, these types of drinks also contain a high amount of sodium.


YOUR favourite condiments add to your salt intake as well. According to the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 (Ministry of Health Malaysia), one teaspoon of table salt is equivalent in sodium to:

*6 teaspoons of light soya sauce

* 6 1/2 teaspoons of oyster sauce or cencaluk

*8 teaspoons of budu

* 15 teaspoons of thick soya sauce or chilli sauce

* 21 teaspoons of tomato sauce

* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at


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