South Africa has one of the highest rates of high blood pressure (hypertension) worldwide. In fact, 1 in 3 adult South Africans are living with high blood pressure which is one of the leading causes for heart disease or stroke. Every day, 225 people die from heart disease – 76 of them due to a stroke. An estimate of 10 people will suffer a stroke and five people will have a heart attack every hour!

A high salt diet is one of the leading causes for high blood pressure. And on average, South Africans are consuming more than double the recommended amount of salt! The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa is calling on the nation to eat less salt.

How does high blood pressure lead to a heart attack or a stroke?

  • When blood pressure is too high, it damages the blood vessel walls and puts extra strain on the heart. Damaged blood vessels become harder and stiffer than they should be and plaque easily builds up which narrows them further. This build-up of plaque in arteries also increases the risk of developing blood clots, which can easily become lodged in narrow spaces. When this happens, the clot can block the blood supply to parts of the body.

  • Although arteries naturally harden and become less elastic over time as you age, when high blood pressure is left un-controlled, it speeds up the hardening process.
Plaque or a blood clot may cause an artery feeding the heart muscle to become completely blocked, cutting off the blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. This muscle becomes starved of oxygen, and begins to die, resulting in a heart attack.

  • High blood pressure can also cause damage to the arteries supplying the brain tissue, making them more likely to burst or become blocked. If a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischaemic stroke) or bursts (haemorrhagic stroke), it will result in a stroke. When that happens, part of the brain doesn't get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die and results in the person experiencing the symptoms of stroke.

What is sodium?
Salt is made up of two parts - sodium and chloride. Sodium is the part of salt that can increase your blood pressure when you eat too much of it.

Do you eat too much salt?

It can be very easy to eat too much salt when eating normal everyday foods.

  • Half of the salt we eat is from salt added by manufacturers during the processing of foods.

  • The other half of the salt we eat comes from salt we add during cooking and salt sprinkled on at the table.

What about 'hidden' salt?

Half of the salt we eat comes from processed foods.

In South Africa, the top contributors to daily salt intake are:

  • Bread (all types)

  • Processed meat products
Soup/gravy powder

  • Meat and vegetable extracts
Hard/block margarine

  • Savoury snacks (including crisps)

  • Breakfast cereals

How much salt is too much?

  • Y
ou should eat no more than 5 g of salt per day.

  • 5 g is the same as one teaspoon of salt or 2 000 mg of sodium.

  • This 5 g includes the salt that you add to your food as well as salt already found in foods.

How to choose less salty foods

Read the ingredients list – this is mostly found at the back of a product. If sodium or salt is listed in the first three ingredients, the food is likely to be a high-salt choice. Salt may also be 'hidden' on the list as table salt, sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, sodium bicarbonate and soy sauce – these are all salt too!

Use the table below to decide if food is low, moderate or high in sodium:

Remember to look at per 100g of food and not per serving - these numbers are found in the Nutritional Information Table on the packaging.


  • Tips to eat less salt

    • Cut down on processed foods – salt is found in almost every pre-prepared food, from processed meat to canned soup, to bottled dressings and packaged sauces, bread, and condiments such as ketchup and pickles. Try use more fresh foods and less processed foods.

    • Cook at home – making your own meals means that you can control how much salt you are adding, as well as increasing how many vegetables you can add to dishes. Taste your food during cooking before you add salt, as it may not need it. If you have already added salty spices or a stock cube, you don't need salt too. When you use salt during cooking, you don't need to add more at the table. Don't put the salt shaker on the table to help stop the habit of adding salt to your plate.

    • Flavour your food – but don't use salt. Choose fresh or dried herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice to ensure that your food doesn't taste bland.

    • Eating out – restaurants are notorious for creating salty meals, as this is an easy way to boost flavour – ask your waiter to tell the chef to use less salt in your meal, and if the dish has a sauce or dressing, ask for this to be served on the side.
    • Read the packaging – some products may have a low salt, low sodium or no salt added version, but also be aware that these products may not necessarily be 'healthy' if they are also high in sugar or fat.


Products that carry the Heart Mark logo can be trusted to be a healthier choice because they:

    • Have been thoroughly tested by an independent SANAS accredited laboratory

    • Meet stringent nutritional criteria for fats, sodium, cholesterol, added sugars and fibre (where applicable)

    • Are spot-checked to make sure they meet criteria

    • Can be used as part of the HSF's eating plan. There is a growing list of Heart Mark approved products. Check your local Shoprite supermarkets' shelves.

    For more information on healthy living kindly contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (0860 1 432 78), send an email to or visit for more information.