Salt is made up of two minerals, sodium (40 %) and chloride (60 %), with sodium playing an important role in several of the body’s processes: it maintains the fluid balance in our cells, contracts our muscles, transmits nerve impulses, and helps our digestive system absorb nutrients. 
It’s a fact that our bodies require sodium, but we need to watch our intake carefully. While the World Health Organisation recommends that adults consume less than a teaspoon of salt (5 grams) per day , most of us, including children, are consuming considerably more. In fact, experts estimate that some South Africans are consuming as much as 40 grams of salt a day. 
According to Dr. Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, the problem is that up to 60 % of salt is hidden in products and consumed by people probably unaware of the high salt content in their food.
Sodium comes from three major sources – salt and condiments that we add to our food during cooking or at the table, natural sources such as vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish, and processed and prepared foods such as bread, ready meals, bacon, cheese and fast foods. In the United States, a staggering 75 % of sodium consumed comes from processed food and restaurant food.
There are currently 6.3 million South Africans living with high blood pressure, with roughly 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occurring each day. But according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, up to 80 % of these cardiovascular diseases could be prevented if we changed our behaviour.
A high intake of sodium can lead to a number of severe side effects, including kidney problems and kidney stones, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and is responsible for 62 % of stroke and 49 % of coronary heart disease.
A few tips to control and decrease your salt intake:
Look at how much salt the item contains per 100 grams.
More than 1.5 grams of salt (0.6 grams of sodium) is high, while 0.3 grams of salt (0.1 grams of sodium) is low. If the label supplies only the sodium content, simply multiply the figure by 2.5 to get the salt content.
By making your own sauces and soups, and also simmering your own beans until they are ready instead of opening a can is time consuming but will drastically reduce your salt intake.
When purchasing quick and easy foods, choose frozen instead of canned. Also, rinse these foods before consuming – this will help to remove the excess salt.
Avoid adding salt when boiling pasta or rice and rather add to the final dish or just before serving.
Always measure the amount of salt you are adding to your cooking; this will allow you to keep track of your daily intake.
Add less salt to your food at the table and rather than using salt to flavor your food when you’re cooking, try using herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice instead.
Acidic ingredients such as lemon, brings out the special taste of other ingredients, thus replacing the need to add extra salt. Herbs could also ease the transition of your newly found lower salt cooking style.
We tend to load vegetables with salt when cooking them to avoid the bitter flavor. Instead of adding excess salt, opt for grilling or roasting your vegetables to bring out their natural sweetness.
The following foods are very high in salt and should be used sparingly: stock cubes, gravies, packet soups, cheese, many breakfast cereals, breads, salty snacks, processed meats and fast foods.
Sodium occurs naturally in vegetables, dairy products, meat, and shellfish, but only in small amounts, so sticking to mostly whole foods is an excellent way to help keep your levels of sodium down.
Combining the above-mentioned tips with your daily exercise routine will leave you feeling healthier and happier.
To read more about salt and Salt Awareness Week (16-22 March), click here: < insert link to press release on SMASA website>