Do you find a saucer of sawsawan as a mainstay on your dining table? How about giving a dash or two, or three of that packaged seasoning while cooking? Do you always end up eating junk food instead of a piece of fruit?
If you said yes to the three questions above, then most probably you're taking in too much salt without knowing it. Most foods today are processed and contain a lot of preservatives like sugar and salt. So in this day and age, how can you be sure that your daily salt intake is just right? What are the different steps to take in ensuring that you're living healthy?
First, let's begin by differentiating salt and sodium. It causes some confusion, seeing food products containing words such as "low in sodium" or "unsalted". Sodium is actually the mineral, and salt is one of its forms. Table salt, known as sodium chloride, has sodium as one of its components. So when it's labelled as "low in sodium", that means there's smaller amounts of salt in it compared to other products. But in any case, you still have to check the nutritional data at the back and make sure the salt content is within the daily recommended value. For the average healthy adult, the recommended daily intake of salt is 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg a day, according to the Nutritionist-Dietitians' Association of the Philippines (NDAP) It is alarming to know that Filipinos take in more than double that amount. The data from the NDAP indicates that Filipinos consume about 2,800 mg to 6,000 mg of sodium a day. Yes, a day! That's around 1 tablespoon or more of salt. Can you imagine all of the salt that goes in your body? Why is it so?
We Filipinos are very fond of salty foods and condiments. There's bagoong, toyo, patis, seasonings like Knorr and Maggie Magic Sarap, Ajinomoto, and the never-dying vetsin. We also like junk food like chips and nuts. We're always buying processed foods and canned goods: corned beef, Vienna sausage, luncheon meat, sardines, instant noodles, instant champorado, instant everything. The price we pay for the convenience of time and money may be our health.
What is it with salty foods? Why do we have to avoid them?
Basically, the reason why we have to avoid too much salt in foods is because excessive amounts of salt raise blood pressure levels. More than a billion people in the world are affected by hypertension. According to the National Nutrition and Health Survey in 2003, about 22 out of 100 people are hypertensive. And while we think this isn't an alarming number, it is revealed that hypertensive people are getting younger and younger. Hypertension is also a gateway to other diseases like congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease and more.
How does salt raise blood pressure levels? We all need salt in our bodies, so how come it results into hypertension? Our bodies regulate salt intake through our kidneys. And when our kidneys don't get to manage the high salt intake, the extra salt goes into the bloodstream. Salt draws water in, so what happens is the water levels increase in the bloodstream, raising the blood volume, thus resulting into high blood pressure.
What are the steps to reducing salt intake and lowering blood pressure then? The easiest step is to check the labels on the food products you buy. Remember that the amount of sodium indicated on the label is equivalent to one or two servings. There are many ingredients with food compounds that include sodium. According to MayoClinic.com, these are baking soda, baking powder, sodium alginate, sodium nitrate and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Whenever you take in foods with these compounds, you are also consuming sodium without knowing it. The NDAP website cites the U.S. FDA's guidelines on some sodium-related terms used on food packaging:
- "reduced sodium" – 25% less sodium than original
- "low sodium" – 140 mg or less of sodium
- "very low sodium" – 35 mg or less of sodium
- "sodium-free" – less than 5 mg of sodium
Make sure that whatever you eat, the amount of total sodium you consume is still in the safe range. If possible, try to avoid consuming processed foods. Again, these food products contain a lot of preservatives to make them last longer. As Filipinos, it's hard to let go of all the sawsawan and dipping sauces, but try to limit it. And finally, why not go organic? Use natural flavourings like herbs and spices. Even try to cook your own food so you know how to control the salt you put into it.
It's never too late to make little changes in your lifestyle to be able to live healthy. Whether it's holding off from eating the cup of instant noodles or from dipping in the patis and sili combination, a little bit goes a long way. By avoiding too much salt, you are avoiding greater chances of getting sick in the future, and that sounds more appetizing than gulping down a bag of chips.
- Reyes, T. M. (2010, November 30). Shaving salt, saving lives. The Philippine Star, pp. E1-E2. Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=634667&publicationSubCategoryId=80
- Sodium: How to tame your salt habit now. (2010, May 22). In MayoClinic. Retrieved March 07, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/NU00284
- U.S. food and drug administration definitions of nutrient content claims (per serving): a food labeling guide. (n.d.). In Nutritionist-Dietitians' Association of the Philippines. Retrieved March 07, 2011, from http://www.ndap.org.ph/us-food-drug-administration-definitions-nutrient-content-claims-serving-food-labeling-guide
- January 14, 2011. (January 14, 2011). In Nutritionist-Dietitians' Association of the Philippines. Retrieved March 08, 2011, from http://www.ndap.org.ph/knowledge-updates/128
- Abille, Eva T. (2006). The ABC's of Reducing CVD risk among Filipinos. Retrieved from http://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=561