Cutting Down on Salt for Better Health

Sodium is an essential mineral for life. It is found in the blood and in the fluid that surrounds cells. It maintains cellular environment and prevents cells from swelling or dehydrating. Sodium is also important for maintaining proper nerve and muscle cell function

An overly high intake of sodium which is a component of salt, has been linked to high blood pressure particularly in susceptible individuals. High blood pressure increases risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Sodium affects the blood pressure in two ways. These are by favoring the retention of too much water in the blood and by causing the swelling of the innermost lining of the arteries which narrows the diameter of the blood vessel.

Limiting sodium — which is present in salt, seasonings, processed foods, bread, bakery products and other substances in foods you eat — is one of the most important things that people with hypertension can do. Sodium retains fluid in the body. To pump the added fluid, the heart has to work harder. People with heart failure should not put this extra strain on their hearts.

It is estimated that many Filipinos eat more salt and sodium than recommended. The Filipino diet contains about 2000 mg of sodium coming from sodium inherent in foods, particularly animal and vegetable foods as well as from salt added to food which is about 5g of salt. With the addition of soy sauce, patis, mono sodium glutamate (MSG) or vetsin and other salty condiments during cooking or seasonings at the table, or excessive intake of salty fish and highly salted fermented fish or sauces such as bagoong, the sodium intake increases drastically to about 6000 mg (about 15g of salt).

The 2003 National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHes) conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute-Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) has shown the prevalence of hypertension of 22.5% among Filipino adults. This means that 22 in every 100 Filipino adults are hypertensive. The survey also noted that at the age of 40 years, the blood pressure starts to rise.

Here are some tried-and-true ways for reducing sodium intake:

Limiting salt when you eat:
Eat natural foods with little or no added salt.
Take the salt, patis, bagoong, soy sauce, catsup off the table.
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and other low-sodium foods instead of canned and processed foods.
Eat fresh meats and fish instead of ham, bacon, tinapa, dilis, daing, etc.

Limiting salt when you cook:
Avoid any seasonings, including soy sauce, patis, bagoong, bouillon cubes, chili sauce, meat tenderizer, soy sauce, steak sauce, and worcestershire sauce.
Use fresh herbs, lemon juice and vinegar as seasonings in place of salt.
Drain and rinse canned foods before preparing them in order to remove some of the salt.

Limiting salt when you shop:
Read food labels to check salt content (listed as "sodium") . It is still important to read the label to see exactly how much salt it contains. The less salt, the better!
Start with what is in your cabinet right now so you can stop buying high-sodium foods such as processed/instant foods and snack chips.

The correct balance of electrolytes and water within the body cells is essential for life's vital functions. The most important electrolytes are sodium, potassium and chloride with small amounts of bicarbonate, magnesium, calcium and other trace minerals. To balance electrolytes in your body, drink plenty of water and eat fruits high in potassium like bananas and drink orange juice.

For more information on food and nutrition, contact: Dr. Mario V. Capanzana, FNRI Director, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, General Santos Avenue, Bicutan, Taguig City, Philippines Tel./Fax: 8372934, 8373164; e-mail: or at; FNRI-DOST website: http// (Ma. Idelia G. Glorioso, FNRI-DOST S&T Media Service/PIA-Caraga)

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