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Salt and sugar: how much is too much?

Having a little salt and sugar as part of your diet is ok, but in excess both can be harmful to your health and increase your risk of chronic diseases. Find out how much your body really needs.

One small thing:Make your own salad dressing at home using lemon juice, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs.

Most South Africans consume more salt and sugar than is recommended, but retraining your palate to get by on less of both is easier than you think. “Research shows that we add around 30-45% of salt voluntarily to our food,” says PnP dietitian Juliet Fearnhead. “The rest is already in foods, such as processed and fast foods.”

She believes that a two-pronged approach is required to reduce salt consumption:

  1. Decrease the amount of salt you are voluntarily adding to your food.
  2. Be aware of foods that already have salt added to them, such as bread, cheese, processed meats and convenience meals, and moderate your intake.
How much is too much salt?

Salt is made up of two minerals: sodium and chloride. Sodium is the component linked to high blood pressure (hypertension). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends our salt intake is less than 5g per day, but in South Africa, it’s closer to 9g per day.

Excess sodium can cause the body to retain water and the excess fluid drives up blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that the daily sodium intake for all adults should ideally be less than 1 500mg per day and no more than 2 300mg daily, which is supported globally. One teaspoon of salt (5g) contains about 2 300mg of sodium.

How can you cut back on salt?

“Salt intake adds up very quickly because many foods have a hidden salt component,” says Fearnhead. She shares some simple tips on how to reduce your consumption :

  • Prepare your own meals – cooking at home gives you more control over how much salt you use.
  • Eat fresh whole foods, like fruit and vegetables, to increase your nutrient intake.
  • If you seasoned food during cooking, don’t add salt at the table.
  • Limit sodium-rich condiments like soya sauce, salad dressings and dips.
  • Explore other seasonings, like herbs, cinnamon, ginger and onion, to add flavour.
Are you eating too much sugar?

South Africans consume, on average, 12 to 24 teaspoons of sugar per day, and our sugar consumption as a nation has increased to 33.1% since 1994, mainly through processed foods and soft drinks.

The WHO recommends a maximum of 5 to 10 teaspoons of free sugars per day. According to new guidelines from the American Heart Association, children between the ages of two and 18 should eat fewer than six teaspoons per day. Free sugar is either added by you (sugar in your tea or coffee), or found in processed foods (biscuits and convenience meals) or in high-kilojoule desserts.

Reduce your sugar intake

Reducing the amount of sugar you have daily is good for your health. Aside from gradually adding less sugar to tea or coffee, there are other ways to cut back on sugar consumption. You can:

  • Sweeten plain low-fat yoghurt with fresh fruit.
  • Drink water instead of soft drinks or fruit juice , which are often loaded with sugar.
  • Enjoy whole fruit instead of desserts, biscuits and pastries.
  • Read food labels and research restaurant menus to avoid high-sugar options.

As you cut back on your sugar intake you may start to notice:

  • • You’ll feel more energetic.
  • • You’ll enjoy a better night’s sleep.
  • • You’ll be able to focus and concentrate better.
  • • You’ll gradually lose weight over time.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.