Updated 10 March 2014

Too much salt could kill you

A staggering 80% of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes - such as reducing your salt intake - experts say.

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 diseases like strokeand heart disease.

Latest research continues to paint a dark picture, revealing that South Africa has the highest rate of high blood pressure reported among people aged 50 and over for any country in the world, at any time in history, with almost 8 out of 10 people in this age group being diagnosed with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease and strokes, with statistics showing that there are about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes daily in South Africa. That means that 10 people will suffer a stroke and five people will have a heart attack every hour.

Salt kills

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.

The link between salt and high blood pressure is well-documented, but on average, South Africans are consuming more than double the recommended amount of salt – which should be no more than 5g (1 teaspoon) of salt a day from all sources.

By lowering salt intake in South Africa an estimated 4300 non-fatal strokes can be prevented, which amounts to a total annual saving of R300 million. This is the current burden on our healthcare sector, and the amount does not take into consideration household costs such as lost income.

Read: Salt - the slow, silent killer

Hidden salt

About 55% of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods and many people aren’t aware of the high salt content of their food.

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.

In order to do this, South Africans first need to be aware of processed food products that are high in salt, such as bread, cereals, hard/block margarines, gravy and soup powders, meat products like sausage, polony and pies, meat and vegetable extracts, and fast foods.

“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.

Read: 10 salty food culprits

Salt legislation

Fortunately, in a ground-breaking move 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.

But another concern is that South Africans rate high on the list of discretionary salt use – that is the amount of salt they add to the food themselves, whether it is during cooking or to the plate. In South Africa, up to 40% of salt is added by individuals to their food. South Africans need to cut down on salt slowly, gradually cutting back on the salt added at the table and when cooking. “In time the body will adjust and eating a healthy low-salt diet will become much less of a chore – and will actually become a pleasure instead”, says Dr Mungal-Singh. Make use of fresh and dried herbs and spices to bring out the natural flavour when cooking, rather than adding salt.

The HSF was recently mandated to conduct a public awareness and education campaign to reduce salt consumption in South Africa. The campaign will be run through Salt Watch South Africa (SW), a multisectoral coalition, co-ordinated by the HSF, supported by the national department of health (DOH), and is a member of World Action on Salt and Health (WASH).  

Read: Motsoaledi signs new salt regulations

Salt Summit

As a platform to launch Salt Watch, the HSF is holding a Salt Summit on 13 March 2014 for the purpose of bringing together national and international key opinion leaders and experts, government, industry and other key stakeholders to explore solutions to the challenges we face for consumer behaviour modification and salt reduction.

“Legislation alone is not going to lower salt consumption in the country and improve health. This is going to be a collaborative effort of government, the food industry and organisations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation. And the people of South Africa also have a role to play. It is time for people to realise that salt is killing South Africans and it is time to take action!”

For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 43278 or visit

(Photo of salt shaker from Shutterstock)

Read more:
Salt is killing South Africans
Cut down on salt and live longer


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