Salt usually refers to sodium chloride. Sodium is a mineral that you need for optimal body function. It is essential for maintaining the right balance of body fluids, transmitting nerve impulses, and controlling muscle contraction and relaxation.

Sources

While many foods (such as whole grains, meat and dairy products) naturally contain trace amount of sodium, the main source of sodium is salt which usually serves as seasoning or preservative, or sodium sources that come in various forms such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and baking soda. Processed meats such as ham, sausages, bacon and other preserved meat may contain from 3-5 grams (g) of salt per 100 g. Some savoury snacks, breads, canned soups, breakfast cereals also contain substantial amounts of salt; anything from 1 to 4 g per 100 g. Besides, traditional Asian condiments, including oyster sauce, fish sauce and prawn paste, are usually high in salt too.

Requirement

For healthy adults, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recommend sodium consumption of less than 2 000 milligrams (mg) a day. As salt is composed of 40% sodium and 60% of chloride, this equals to 5 000 mg or approximately one teaspoon of salt. Children should have less salt than adults. For example, the Chinese Nutrition Society recommends that children aged between 7-10 should limit sodium intake to 1 000 mg (i.e. about half teaspoon of salt) a day. The younger the child, the lesser amount of sodium he/she requires a day.

Health Alert

Eating too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure and renal disease.

Practical Tips for Reducing Salt Intake

Salt is placed at the "Eat the Least" level at the top of the Food Pyramid. They should be taken in small amounts. Here are some suggestions for keeping your salt intake in check:

 
 

References

Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases: Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series No. 916.Geneva: World Health Organization; 2003.

Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research; 2007.

Chinese DRIs. Chinese Nutrition Society.