Must-knows about salt and sodium. By Yuen Yi Ying
Still confused about the difference between salt and sodium? We ask the experts to dish the facts on the salty, white stuff.
Salt and sodium: what’s the difference? (Photo: 25891 / www.pixabay.com)
1. Salt and sodium aren’t the same thing
A lot of people use both terms interchangeably, but the latter is actually part of the former (about 40 per cent of the make-up). Linked to high blood pressure and other health complications, sodium is what doctors are more concerned about.
The Health Promotion Board of Singapore recommends that adults take no more than 5g of salt (2,000mg of sodium) every day, but findings by the Board show that most Singaporeans consume an average of 9g of salt daily – more than 60 per cent above the acceptable level.
That’s not surprising considering our dine-out culture. It’s easy to bust the limit when local hawker favourites like beef noodle soup pack more then 3,978mg of sodium in a single serving. Thankfully, most locals tend to hold off the salt shaker at mealtimes, observes Jaclyn Reutens, clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants.
2. Sauces are the biggest source of sodium in the Singaporean diet
According to the National Nutrition Survey, 2010, the largest food source of sodium for locals is sauces. Foods like soya sauce, oyster sauce, stock, sambal, and pastes make up 60 per cent.
The remaining sources are from processed food like bread, noodles, fish balls, and crab sticks (37 per cent) and fresh food such as shellfish, meat and vegetables (3 per cent).
Another interesting stat? Singaporeans aged between 30 and 49 have the highest salt intake, according to the 2011 HPB Salt Intake Study. If you’re one who loves your savoury fare, start reducing your sodium intake by buying soya sauce that is better for you. See a comparison of the sodium content of locally available soya sauces here.
3. Consuming too little sodium can be bad for you
You might already know that getting too much sodium is a health risk, but did you know that having too little (though rare) is problematic as well?
“Elderly folks who tend to have very restrictive diets could fall on the low side,” says Dr Leslie Tay, general practitioner at Karri Family Clinic. “Those who take diuretics (drugs that promote water excretion) could be at risk too,” he adds.
Some symptoms that indicate you’re getting too little sodium include muscle weakness and fatigue, since the mineral is needed for muscle and nerve function.
4. Taking salt can help with cramps
Other than insufficient conditioning and fatigue, cramps can also be caused by a lack of sodium. This usually happens when the workout is prolonged and the person perspires profusely, such as during a tennis match or in endurance events like triathlons and cycling races.
“Excessive perspiration makes you lose more of the mineral, and a reduction around the nerve endings of muscle fibres can cause them to be ‘hyper-excitable’, resulting in spontaneous muscle contractions – or cramps,” says Dr Darren Leong, resident physician at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre.
That’s why it’s important to take beverages that contain sodium (such as isotonic, hypotonic or hypertonic drinks) at regular intervals during training to replace the electrolytes and water lost. If you’re prone to cramps, you may benefit from adding half a teaspoon of salt to your sports drink, says Dr Leong.
For those using salt pills, it’s best to grind them up and mix them with the appropriate amount of fluid (two to three tablets per litre) for better tolerance and palatability, he adds.