The Threat of Salt in Our Staple Diet

      March 08, 2007 09:11

      A meal consisting of simmering soy-bean stew, kimchi and salted shellfish is to all intents and purposes a healthy, low-cholesterol option. But what about salt? Excessive intake of salt is a determining cause for Korea's top three killer diseases -- cancer, stroke and heart disease. According to a report on public health in 2005, Koreans consume a daily average of 13 g of salt, almost three times more than the 5 g recommended by the World Health Organization.

      ◆ Health Trouble

      Varieties of salt

      Salt is an essential element for the body. But the required daily intake the body needs to function properly is 1.3 g, and consuming more than 5 g a day does more harm than good, experts say. Dr. Kim Jae-hyung of the College of Medicine at the Catholic University of Korea says food salt, which consists of natrium and chloride, prevents water in the kidneys from being excreted as urine and thus increases the volume of body fluids, which in turn puts pressure on the heart and blood vessels and can cause various diseases. Excessive salt consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, cardiac trouble, stroke, kidney trouble, gastric cancer, osteoporosis and even obesity.

      ◆ The Need to Change Our Diet

      The problem is that Koreans take in half the salt they consume from their staple diet, whereas Westerners get most salt from processed food. According to a report by the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) in 2006, the main sources of natrium for Koreans were kimchi (25 percent), traditional seasoning sauces (22 percent) and salt (20 percent). Based on that, the administration warned Koreans should cut their salt intake by half if they want to reduce the risk of high blood pressure or gastric cancer. This is why many experts say natrium is more dangerous to Koreans than the reviled trans fats.

      Varieties of salt

      So how much salt do the dishes we eat on a daily basis contain? According to the KFDA report, a bowl of noodles contains 7.3 g of salt, already way more than the recommended 5 g. A bowl of instant noodle or ramyeon has 5.3 g, a bowl of cold noodles 4.5 g, kimchi 2.5 g per 100 g and a bowl of soy bean paste stew 2.4 g. In comparison, a slice of pizza contains 3.3 g and a hamburger 2.3 g.

      Kim says Koreans should reduce consumption of kimchi and some traditional seasoning sauces, but more important is they should try to change their eating habits. A KFDA staff member points out that people mistakenly believe that natrium only comes from salty food, whereas it can also be found in bread and noodles.

      ◆ Change Should Start at Home

      Concern over Koreans' excessive salt consumption caused the KFDA to reduce the daily recommended dose of natrium from 3.5 g to 2.5 g last September. This will require food companies to change labeling indicating natrium content from this December. For instance, a product with 2.4 g of natrium contains 68 percent of the daily recommended amount by the old standard but 117 percent of the new standard. The amount of salt contained can be calculated by multiplying the stated amount of natrium by 2.5.

      "It is not easy for the government to reduce salt consumption in Korea because half of the salt intake comes from their staple foods," a KFDA official said. "The government can regulate food manufacturers, but when it comes to individual diet, there are few things that the government can do except appeal to individuals to do it themselves."

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