SINGAPORE — In an effort to eat healthily, people may try to make better food choices when they dine out or at home, choosing to eat a bowl of noodle soup instead of fried food at the hawker centre, or have a salad or a “cleaner” lunch.
Our tastebuds play a role, too. If you have always been eating food high in salt content, that can dull the sensitivity of your tastebuds.
“This results in a need for a higher concentration of salt for one to detect saltiness,” Ms Yeo added.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE TOO MUCH SALT?
While sodium is an essential nutrient for the body, it needs only around 500mg — or less than a quarter teaspoon — each day to function normally, Prof Tan said.
The nutrient helps transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibres including those in the heart and blood vessels, and maintain a proper fluid balance.
However, too much sodium is harmful to body.
After having a salty meal, a person may experience symptoms such as feeling bloated, feet swelling, thirst and frequent urination.
“Natural excretion of excess salt will be carried out by the body.
“(The symptoms) are usually self-limiting and resolve with time, with little consequences as the body able to regulate the sodium level through natural excretion,” Prof Tan explained.
“However, too many holiday parties, rich salty hors d’oeuvres, delectable cakes and pudding can harm your cardiovascular health. This can increase risk of high blood pressure and stroke,” he added.
“High level of sodium in the blood stream reduces the kidneys’ ability to remove water.
“This can cause the body to retain water, resulting in an increase in overall blood volume, which then increases stress on the blood vessels, causing hypertension.”
Prof Tan said that it is important to reduce sodium intake from an early age. From age 18, people should also monitor their blood pressure even though hypertension is less common in younger people.
HOW TO WEAN OFF SODIUM
Ms Yeo said that slowly reducing sodium from your diet and adjusting to less salty flavours can help people get accustomed to a lower-sodium diet.
This can be done in 21 days or three weeks.
She suggested doing this gradually over three weeks, starting with being more mindful of food choices when dining out, buying takeaways or ordering in:
Opt for plain rice instead of flavoured riceAsk for no or less salt, sauces and gravyConsume less gravy or soups. Refrain from finishing the soup when you have a soup dish because this is where a lot of sodium isAdd aromatics, fresh herbs and spices if you need more flavour in your mealIf you still prefer having sauces or dressing, ask that they be served separately. Only dip when necessary and do so sparinglyRefrain from dipping into extra condiments such as soy sauce and chilli sauceConsider lower-sodium alternatives such as potassium salt (K-salt), which contains 30 per cent less sodium.However, people with medical conditions such as chronic or advanced stages of kidney disease should exercise caution with this salt substitute unless under guidance by a health professional. When kidney function is poor, the organs may not be able to excrete excess potassium from the body effectively, Ms Yeo said.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT LOWER-SODIUM SALT SUBSTITUTES
Ms Yeo said one thing to note is that Himalayan salt, sea salt, rock salt and kosher salt are not table-salt substitutes since they have similar sodium content by weight.
In a joint statement, the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, Singapore Heart Foundation and National Kidney Foundation emphasised the urgent need to reduce sodium intake in the population here to prevent diseases.
One of the key strategies it highlighted at the symposium last month was the use of lower-sodium salt substitutes, such as potassium-enriched salt and other salt blends with monosodium-glutamate or yeast extract.
Lower-sodium salt substitutes use a variety of minerals and ingredients to lower the sodium content of the product while preserving taste.
“These substitutes can be used as one-for-one replacements for regular salt,” Prof Tan said.
USING MSG TO REPLACE TABLE SALT
Derived from glutamate, flavour enhancer MSG is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in nearly all foods.
MSG can be used as a substitute for salt or used to replace some sodium chloride in table salt. It contains less than a third of sodium in table salt.
This is among the strategies to reduce sodium intake, by the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, Singapore Heart Foundation, and National Kidney Foundation.
In a joint statement issued by these three parties at a symposium last month on sodium and salt substitutes, they also highlighted that:
The glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from naturally occurring glutamates in foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses, as the body metabolises both sources of glutamate in the same wayThe consensus among regulatory agencies worldwide is that MSG is safe for consumption when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices. These agencies include the United States Food and Drug Administration, European Food Safety Authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, which is an international scientific expert committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health OrganizationWhile there have been claims of adverse reactions to MSG, such as headaches, perspiration and feelings of numbness, these claims have not been substantiated by scientific evidenceSome people may be sensitive to MSG, just like any other food ingredient, but these cases are rare, and the symptoms are mild and short-lived
Senior dietitian Natalie Yeo from the Singapore Heart Foundation said it is important to note that MSG can still affect one’s health if it increases the person’s sodium intake.
In a 2022 study cited in the National Library of Medicine, a biomedical library in Maryland of the United States, the recommended dose for daily consumption of MSG is less than 6g a day for adults
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