Salt consumption among Singaporeans has increased tremendously. Findings by the 2018/2019 National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Health Promotion Board revealed that 90 per cent of Singaporeans consumed 9g of salt daily on average, which is well above the recommended amount of 5g per day.
According to Ms Ong Li Jiuen, Head, Dietetics, Changi General Hospital (CGH), the reason behind the significant rise in salt intake can be attributed to the growing trend of people eating out more often due to busy lifestyles. “As a result, most may opt for convenience by choosing easy-toprepare processed food, which are often high in sodium,” she said.
Also known as sodium chloride, salt comprises 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chloride, and is the primary source of sodium and chloride ions required to maintain optimum health. Being a vital electrolyte and naturally occurring mineral, salt is necessary for proper nerves and muscular functioning, as well as the regulation of water and mineral levels in the body.
However, excessive salt consumption can lead to detrimental consequences to one’s health. “Consuming high levels of salt over a period of time can result in health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke and depletion of calcium stores in the body, leading to thinning bones, which poses a risk of osteoporosis,” shared Ms Ong.
Conversely, it is just as possible to experience sodium deficiency if one loses too much sodium as a result of strenuous activities. Extremely low levels of sodium can potentially lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatraemia. This condition, caused by the extreme loss of sodium, can trigger symptoms ranging from muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness to shock, coma and death. Consuming electrolyterich beverages to compensate for the loss of sodium and other essential minerals from the body can help prevent these scenarios from occurring.
Ms Ong recommends the following tips to strike a balance when it comes to salt intake:
- Prepare your own meals. This allows you to adjust your sodium intake accordingly. Natural herbs, spices and aromatics such as onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, parsley, spring onions, cinnamon and pepper are common alternatives that enhance the taste and aroma of food while reducing the need to add too much salt or seasoning.
- Consume fresh instead of processed or cured meats such as ham or bacon, which contain higher levels of sodium used to preserve the meats and maintain their freshness for longer periods of time. Fresh cuts of chicken and beef naturally do contain sodium, but their levels are significantly lower compared to processed meats.
- Include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet as these are low in sodium and contain sources of other minerals such as potassium, which together with sodium supports fluid balance in the body that in turn helps regulate blood pressure levels.
- Read nutrition labels on food items and look out for the sodium content on the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP). The amount of sodium is listed under the ‘per serving’ column on the NIP. Be mindful of servings, though, as exceeding the recommended number of servings can still lead to an increased sodium intake.
However, with Singaporeans dining out more, how then does one ensure a healthy salt intake? Ms Ong suggests some simple reminders that include:
- Opting for plain rice instead of flavoured rice.
- Declining or asking for less salt, sauces and gravy.
- Choosing rice noodles such as bee hoon or kway teow, instead of yellow noodles, which are likely to contain more sodium.
- Tasting food first before adding more sauces and condiments such as chilli sauce, ketchup or soy sauce.
While salt should be consumed sparingly across the board, people with particular health conditions have to be more careful with their salt intake. “For those with high blood pressure, excess salt in the diet increases the risk of stroke, kidney disease and heart diseases. As for those with renal issues, too much salt may result in extra sodium and fluid build-up in the body, leading to swollen ankles, puffiness and a rise in blood pressure, shortness of breath and fluid around the heart and/or lungs,” said Ms Ong. Fluid overload is also commonly seen among those with heart problems, as the heart muscles do not pump blood as optimally as they should.
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