The Table Salt, also referred to as sodium in scientific parlance is ubiquitous in foods and consumed in relatively constant amounts in our diets. It’s a universal food item which has been used worldwide for iodine fortification to prevent mental retardation. As popular as salt is, it has been linked with some health conditions which has marked it for global alert on the need to reduce its use in our daily diets. But can we really do without this essential sweetener?
According to the Salt Institute, a North American based non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing the many benefits of salt, salt is essential not only to life, but to good health. In fact, the body’s salt/water ratio is critical to metabolism. “Salt maintains the electrolyte balance inside and outside of cells” the Salt Institute says. It is important to hydration in our bodies. After exercise, it is critical to replace both water and salt lost through perspiration during exercise. When diarrhoea dehydrates the body, we use oral rehydration therapy (ORT) to restore fluids (and health); ORT uses salt, sugar and water and, because of the prevalence in many societies due to inadequate public health, has been termed by the British Medical Journal to be “the most important medical advance of (the 20th) century.” In our homes, salt makes food delicious … and so much more. In fact, there are more than 14,000 uses of salt, many of which involve helping us with our household tasks. For instance, salt has been used for centuries as food preservation and for cleaning household utensils. More uses are still daily being discovered for this very important food item.
Just how much salt do you consume each day? As important as it is, especially as a food sweetener, salt has also been linked with some medical ailments, especially cardiovascular- related conditions such as high blood pressure – and this could be due to its overuse in most homes. If experts are to be believed, chances are that you are eating far more salt than current health guidelines recommend. Indeed, the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says no fewer than nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt. This is not far from the situation in Nigeria. According to a renowned cardiologist and head, Department of Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria,
Professor Solomon Danbauchi, most people eat between 2,500 and 5,000mg of salt per day, whereas the body requires only 2400mg per day. Because of low awareness, most people do not even know that the processed foods, especially snacks and canned foods contain more salt than they need. Prof. Danbauchi says while many people in the western world are gradually withdrawing from consumption of high salted foods, Nigerians seem to have forgotten their tradition and now consume more processed food. According to him, 77 percent of dietary salt is from processed foods. He called for a reduction in the consumption of processed foods and urged people to eat more of vegetables and fruits instead. Also, he said Nigerians should cultivate the habit of reading labels of processed foods before consumption.