Dr Chin Yit Siew & Dr Roseline Yap
ANN/THE STAR – Sodium is one of the essential minerals our body needs to survive.
It plays a major role in many physiological processes such as maintaining water balance, contraction and relaxation of muscles, conduction of nerve impulses, and many more.
With sodium playing such a vital role in our body, it is important for us to replenish this mineral through our diet. Sodium is naturally found in many foods such as whole grains, nuts, packaged and processed foods (where sodium is added during processing), and also in table salt – the most common source.
Salt is a compound made up of two minerals, sodium and chloride.
Despite sodium being an essential mineral in our body, the amount we really need to take in through our diet is much less than you may think.
MORE SALT, MORE (HEALTH) PROBLEMS
High sodium intake can bring a range of negative health effects towards non-communicable disease ie it increases the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), which is a major risk factor for many health conditions like heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney disease.
In addition, high sodium intake can also cause short-term health consequences such as an increase in thirst, water retention and loss of calcium.
ADJUST YOUR TASTE BUDS
So, how can you avoid the negative health consequences of high sodium intake? It’s really quite simple.
A small change to cut salt intake in your diet goes a long way in helping to prevent diseases.
Reducing salt intake to less than five gramme (g) per day helps to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and strokes.
A great way to start is through using less salt when cooking.
Of course, a sudden and drastic reduction in salt can make foods seem relatively less tasty, therefore it is advisable to gradually reduce the amount of salt used when cooking.
You may also find it useful to save salt seasoning until the last step of cooking.
This way, you can taste the food before adding additional salt.
Finally, limit the use of salty condiments in cooking.
USE NATURAL FLAVOUR ENHANCING INGREDIENTS
This includes spices, herbs, fruits or vegetables.
These natural flavour enhancers also have nutritional benefits.
INCORPORATE NATURAL UMAMI-RICH INGREDIENTS
For example, tomatoes, kelp, dried seaweed, anchovies, seafood, Chinese cabbage and dried or fresh mushrooms.
Alternatively, umami seasonings with less sodium such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) can be used to reduce the usage of salt without compromising on taste.
CHOOSE PRE-PACKAGED PRODUCTS WISELY
In the current fast-paced environment, it is clear that the dietary patterns of many have changed to favour quick and calorie-dense meals high in salt, sugar, fats and oils.
Consequently, pre-packaged foods have become a staple for many. This is alarming as these processed pre-packaged foods may contain a high amount of salt.
Therefore, it is imperative to read the food labels of different pre-packaged foods, compare the sodium content per 100g, and choose the product that is lower in sodium/salt content.
It may take some time for us to gradually reduce our salt intake, but once our taste buds get used to less salt, we are more likely to enjoy foods with a broader range of flavours.
More importantly, a lesser sodium intake helps to prevent high blood pressure and the other health complications it brings.
It is up to us to take action early for better health in the future.