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Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

The Dangers of Eating Salty Food

Regular consumption of salty food may put you at risk of hypertension, heart disease or failure, or a stroke. It can also lead to osteoporosis onset. Here's how to watch your salt intake.

Bowls of curry laksa, assam laksa and a plate of char kuey teow on a wooden table

Malaysia is not just a tropical paradise. It’s also known as a country where food is abundant. However, indulging in local cuisine such as assam laksa (8.5 grams of salt), tom yum soup (6.5 grams of salt), wantan mee (3.5 grams of salt), or nasi lemak over long periods may see you consuming an excess amount of salty food. 

Salt (also known as sodium chloride) is made up of sodium (40%) and chloride (60%). It’s believed that eating too much sodium makes you vulnerable to hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

These severe implications are shown in Malaysia’s National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019. It found that stroke and coronary heart disease are the main causes of death in Malaysia, while three out of 10, or 6.4 million people in Malaysia, have hypertension. 

Read to learn more about how salty food can contribute to disease onset, and steps you can take to control your intake of the flavour enhancer.  

How Can Eating Too Much Salty Food Affect Your Health?

Person’s hand in a cuff belt that’s connected to a blood pressure monitor with a reading of 160/88
Regular consumption of salty food may lead to hypertension onset. 

If you eat salty food regularly, your kidneys may struggle to cope with an accumulation of sodium in the blood. To dilute the substance, water will be stored in the body and the quantity of fluid around cells increases. In addition, the volume of blood in the bloodstream will rise.

Consequently, the heart will have to work harder, and more pressure will be exerted on the blood vessels. Over time, the latter may stiffen, causing hypertension, heart failure, or triggering a stroke or heart attack.

Studies also show that a loss of calcium through urination relates to your salt intake. A shortage of the mineral in blood will see it being leached from the bones. This may lead to the onset of bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shares a similar opinion on the long-term effects of consuming salty food on the body.

“The overuse of monosodium glutamate (MSG) – the sodium salt of glutamic acid – can damage the Kidneys and impair bone health. Using too much salt in food preparation will result in poor blood circulation within the meridian channels,” explains Real Health Medical’s Senior Physician Brandon Yew. 

If you crave salty foods, it’s a sign of Kidney Deficiency. The organ system is responsible for maintaining a balance between yin (passive energy) and yang (active energy). It’s also essential to healthy growth and development as it houses jing (essence). This substance is used in the production of blood and qi. Rather than turning to salty foods, nourish the Kidneys with the natural sodium found in food such as celery, seaweed, bone broth, seafood, or beans. 

Ways to Reduce Salty Food Consumption

Dietary modifications can help you control your intake of salt-laden foods.

Prepare your own meals 

Making home-cooked meals limits the frequency of eating out or takeaway, which tends to have unregulated amounts of sodium.

Read food labels 

Choose foods that contain less than 140 milligrammes (mg) of sodium per serving.

Achieve a balanced sodium-potassium consumption ratio 

A 1:2 or 1:3 consumption of sodium and potassium, respectively, can help prevent the onset of various health conditions. The recommended daily intake is two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables.

Substitute salt or MSG with spices and natural seasonings

Bowl of chicken soup cooked with astragalus root and other ingredients
Astragalus root provides a sweet and sour taste to Asian dishes like chicken soup.

In TCM, several natural ingredients may replace salt or MSG as a taste enhancer. Examples of these are:  

  • Ginger (sheng jiang, 生姜): Possesses a fresh and zingy flavour 
  • American ginseng (ren shen, 人参): Has a liquorice-like flavour with earthy undertones  
  • Codonopsis (dang shen, 党参): Sweet-tasting and is a popular addition to Chinese dishes, soups and broths 
  • Hawthorn berries (shan zha, 山楂): Has a tart, tangy, and slightly sweet flavour 
  • Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪): Has a sweet and sour taste

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in salty food occasionally but be mindful of how much you’re eating (even if you’re using Himalayan salt when cooking a meal). Too much salt in your food can cause mild oedema, which TCM can relieve with roasted rice tea (zhi mi cha, 製米茶), Codonopsis red date tea (dang shen hong zhao cha, 党参红枣茶), cordyceps pills (chong cao wan, 蟲草丸), coix seeds (yi yi ren, 薏苡仁) and tangerine peel tea (chen picha, 陈皮茶).

If you’re unable to include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet daily, you may choose to drink fruit or vegetable juices without added sugar. It also helps to also speak to a TCM practitioner before using the abovementioned herbal ingredients. Doing so will provide information on your personal body constitution and what’s suitable for use

This is an adaptation of an article, “Let’s find out the ‘Xian’ suspect together!”, which first appeared on Health 123’s website.

References

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan. Salt and Sodium. [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022] 
  2. Institute for Public Health (IKU). National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019. [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022]  
  3. The Autoimmune Association. 2013. Pass The Bananas With The Salt: How The Sodium-Potassium Ratio Affects Your Adrenal Glands, Thyroid and Heart. [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022]  

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