South Africans have one of the highest rates of hypertension (high blood pressure) worldwide, and almost one in three South Africans (15 years and older) are believed to be living with high blood pressure, making them more susceptible to life-threatening illnesses like stroke and heart disease. At least 10 people will suffer a stroke and five people will have a heart attack every hour in South Africa, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF).
A staggering 80% of these cardiovascular diseases could be prevented through modified behaviour – like reducing salt. ‘Many South Africans know that too much salt is not good for their health but they don’t know that it is actually killing them,’ warns Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa. On average, South Africans are consuming more than double the recommended daily amount of salt – which should be no more than 5g (1 tsp) from all sources of food. By lowering salt intake in South Africa an estimated 4 300 non-fatal strokes can be prevented.
About 55% of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods. This Salt Awareness Week, which runs from 10th to 16th March, the HSF encourages the public to ‘switch the salt’ and to start making a conscious choice to choose products with less salt.
‘We need to look out for high-salt foods and buy alternatives instead’, explains Dr Mungal-Singh. Start by reading food labels carefully – if a product has more than 600mg of sodium (the element in salt that causes raised blood pressure) per 100g of the product, it is high in salt and should be avoided. Compare the sodium content for different products to choose the one with the lowest amount of salt.
In March 2013, the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, signed legislation to reduce salt levels in certain foodstuffs. This makes South Africa the first country globally to legislate salt levels to help reduce the amount of salt that the public takes in from processed foods.