Reducing salt intake

We often see people putting salt on their food before even tasting it, without thinking of the health consequences. Berna Harmse shares ways to reduce salt intake, plus a home-made, low-sodium chicken stock recipe.

In the past, only those with high blood pressure were traditionally advised to avoid salt. Nowadays we all need to do whatever we can to prevent (rather than treat) high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. 

Most of us are consuming too much salt (either knowingly or unknowingly). The recommended daily allowance is one teaspoon per day of salt (sodium chloride or electrolytes in scientific terms). Though, most of us have up to nearly two teaspoons per day and therefore need to look at ways of reducing our salt intake. 

It’s estimated that we all need at least 1g of salt per day for our body to function effectively with increasing needs depending on exercise and weather conditions. The sodium and chloride that makes up salt are vital for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance within the cells and tissues that make up our bodies. Sodium chloride is a simple inorganic mineral that comes from eroding rocks in the sea. 

Ways to reduce salt intake  

  • Don’t add salt while cooking food if you know you’re going to add before eating at the table, and vice versa.  
  • Remember that many processed foods contain salt. These include breakfast cereals, cheese, sandwich spreads, pickled and smoked foods, to name a few. So, go slow the next time you pick up the salt pot for your cheese and ham sandwich.
  • Use herbs and spices, chilli and pepperdews, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper for condiments instead of salt. 
  • Avoid stock cubes (see the home-made low-sodium recipe), marinades, soya sauce, packet sauces and soups, etc. 
  • Avoid salted snacks, such as ready-made popcorn, crisps, nuts and crackers.
  • Learn to read labels. Low sodium foods contain 140mg or less per serving and sodium-free foods contain less than 5mg/serving. Look out for the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa heart mark, which will indicate low sodium products.

Homemade Chicken Stock

  • 1 cooked chicken carcass or bones from 4-6 portions
  • 1 large carrot, quartered
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 1 celery stalk with leaves, quartered
  • 6 cups (1,5 litres) water
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 5 black peppercorns
  1. Place all the ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer without a lid for 45 minutes to develop the flavours.
  3. Pour the stock through a sieve or spoon out veggies, herbs, spices and bones.
  4. Use stock according to the recipe or cool completely and refrigerate for 2-3 days. Alternatively, freeze and use instead of bought stock.
  • Use fish heads or double the veggies to cook fish or vegetable stock.
  • Add any other whole spices or a slice of fresh ginger, 2-3 cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick or curry leaves for more flavour.

Tips for flavouring

  • Fill a spray bottle with lemon juice or vinegar and spray your chips or popcorn instead of sprinkling salt. 
  • Wash off any pickled or salted meats or canned foods before using to remove extra salt. 
  • Choose unsalted nuts or lightly salted crisps as snacks.
  • Avocado pear is just as yummy with lemon juice and black pepper instead of salt.
Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian. She holds a MSc in Dietetics, and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

MEET THE EXPERT – Berna Harmse

Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town. She holds a MSc in Dietetics and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.