Don’t pass the salt

Foods high in salt may be a slow killer

South African food favourites high in salt, such as biltong and bunny chows, may slowly be killing us.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says that for many South Africans‚ salt intake can be as high as 40 grams per day‚ with much of it hidden in processed food and bread, which is the single highest contributor to the total salt intake of South Africans.

There is 2g of salt in four slices of bread. The amount of salt in the diet of most South Africans is far higher than the recommended five grams‚ or one teaspoon‚ per day.

Although South Africa successfully introduced regulations that reduced salt in commonly consumed foods such as breads and processed foods in June last year‚ many foods – for example fast foods – are excluded.

Further reduction of salt content in processed foods will come into effect by 2019.

The question is whether South Africans are predisposed to a sodium affinity based on their taste buds.

Jeff loves biltong‚ salt and vinegar chips‚ and Salticrax. He hates olives‚ brussel sprouts‚ and parmesan cheese on his pasta. He can’t stand cake or beer – in fact‚ as far as he is concerned‚ “a brew tastes like urine”.

The reason that Jeff says this is probably on the tip of his tongue – literally.

Jeff may be a supertaster‚ someone with a greater density of taste buds than others.

Supertasters tend to be more sensitive to tastes and experience taste more intensely than others‚ particularly bitterness.

The rest of us are either non-tasters‚ with little taste perception‚ where even the spiciest food may seem bland‚ or medium tasters‚ who fall between the two.

But the biggest health issue facing supertasters is that although their sensitivity levels are high‚ they generally crave more salt‚ and often use salt to block the taste of “bitter” food.

Is South Africa a nation of supertasters? asks Nicole Jennings‚ spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics‚ which recently launched a low sodium friendly campaign.

“It puts a completely different spin on the entire salt debate since it’s more than just a bad habit that needs to be reviewed,” said Jennings.

“What we like to eat or what tastes good to us largely drives what we do eat at the end of the day and if supertasters mask certain tastes by adding more salt‚ they may find it much more challenging than others to follow a low-salt diet.”

To add to the problem‚ a study has indicated the supertaster gene may be prevalent in Africa.

However, Gabriel Eksteen‚ senior dietician at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa‚ says that it may be too early to suggest that South Africans in particular are driven to eat more salt by genetic taste sensitivity.

“Supertasters or non-tasters‚ the overwhelming majority of South Africans consume too much salt.

“Fortunately humans have a remarkable ability to adapt sensations of sweet‚ salty and bitter upon making dietary changes‚” he says.

“The importance of salt sensitivity compared to the impact of learnt behaviour and the sodium content of local food supply remains to be determined.”

Excessive salt consumption increases blood pressure and is therefore indirectly responsible for many heart attacks and strokes‚ adds Jennings.

“Experts estimate that limiting salt consumption could decrease 11% of deaths from heart disease per year and save the South African government in the region of R713-million per annum in healthcare fees.” – TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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