The amount of salt in a Filipinos diet is huge and it is causing major health problems.
In the west, we have been warned for many years about the health risk of consuming to much salt.
So it comes as a shock when you see the amount of salt Filipinos consume.
We have had it drummed into us that we should eat no more than 5 grams of salt a day. One level teaspoon equals 5 grams of salt.
In the UK the government fined some of the big food manufacturers for putting to much salt in their food. The reason being it was causing so many health problems it was costing the country money.
Filipinos and Salt
I remember the first time I saw a Filipina eating pineapple and was shocked that they ate it with salt. It was not just that they were eating pineapple with salt it was the amount of salt. At a guess, I would say for one pineapple they had between 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt with it.
I remember at the time warning her about the danger of salt. Sadly she took no notice and at the time of writing this article she is on dialysis and waiting for a kidney transplant. Doctors say she suffered renal failure caused by eating too much salt.
It is because of what happened to Alma that I felt I should write about the problems of too much salt in the Filipinos diet. Please read Alma’s story and her need for a kidney transplant.
There are many other fruits that Filipinos eat by dipping it in loads of salt or soy sauce.
Soy sauce is loaded with salt and Filipinos put soy sauce on everything. It is common to see Filipinos dipping their food in soy sauce. Almost every meal in the Philippines seems to taste of say sauce because it is an ingredient in most Philippines recipes.
Is Magic Sarap a good replacement for salt?
Another ingredient Filipinos add to many meals is Magic Sarap All-In-One Seasoning Granules. Take a look at the ingredients of Magic Sarap and you will see the main ingredient is Iodised Salt.
Some Filipinos tell me that Magic Sarap is a good alternative to salt, the fact it has loads of salt it in tells me different.
Why Salt is bad for you
If you consume more than 5 grams of salt a day your kidneys struggle to cope with the excess sodium in your blood. To counter the accumulation of too much sodium your body holds onto more water to dilute the sodium in your body.
The extra water held to try to dilute the sodium results in an increase in the volume of blood in your bloodstream. It also creates more fluid around your cells.
The increase in the volume of your blood puts extra strain on your blood vessels and your heart.
The extra work of your blood vessels leads to them stiffening resulting in high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.
If that was not bad enough, there is also evidence that excessive salt can damage your aorta, heart and kidneys even if you do not have high blood pressure.
Salt is also bad for your bones. High salt intake leads to your bones losing important minerals and can be a cause of osteoporosis.
In China another country with a love of salt and soy sauce, high blood pressure leads to over one million deaths a year. Having been to China I have to say yes in my experience the Chinese consume a lot of salt but not as much as Filipinos.
I am sure I do not need to tell you about the link of high blood pressure to cardiovascular disease, as you are probably well aware of it. In case you are not high blood pressure accounts for 66% of strokes and 50% of heart disease.
Salt and Stomach Cancer
The link between stomach cancer and salt has been known for many years.
A bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) causes 1 in 3 stomach cancers. Salt increases the action of H. pylori.
H. pylori can also cause gastric ulcers and inflammation.
Filipinos high blood pressure
If you have spent any time in the Philippines you soon come to notice Filipinos seem obsessed with high blood pressure. There is a very good reason for this, it is because so many of them have high blood pressure. Even teenagers and people in their early twenties suffer from high blood pressure or have pre-hypertension (at risk of developing high blood pressure).
In 2017 a survey by the Department of Health concluded that 12 million Filipinos had high blood pressure.
Health screenings in New York and New Jersey USA discovered 3 out of 5 Filipinos in that area have high blood pressure. While they might live in America many of them still eat Filipino food, plus American fast food, this is also the diet of many in the Philippines.
Deaths due to salt
Coronary Heart Disease and Strokes are the 2 leading causes of death in the Philippines. Both are linked to high salt consumption. While there is no data on how many of these are down to high salt intake, however, you can be sure from research in other countries salt is a large contributor to these.
Young Filipinos are having strokes
Before I came to the Philippines I had never heard of anyone under 50 years old having a stroke. I would presume it does happen in the UK but it is rare.
Here in the Philippines, I have met many people under the age of 35 years old that have had strokes. The youngest is just 24 years old.
It does seem it is very common for young people to suffer strokes here and the amount of salt in a Filipino diet is probably the reason for this.
Junk Food and Salt
I used to think crisps (what Filipinos call chips) had a lot of salt on them, however, junk food in the Philippines seem to have even more. A lot of junk food here in the Philippines is far too salty for my palate. It is so salty a couple of mouthfuls and my tongue gets sore.
Salt Intake in the Philippines
In the UK 75% of salt consumed comes from processed food. In the Philippines, most of the salt consumed is added to the food during cooking. Many add salt or soy sauce when their food is served without even tasting it first.
It is also common for the salt in Filipino food to be disguised by spices.
Dried fish is dried in salt so has a huge amount of salt in it.
Dipping food in soy sauce and salt is a common way Filipinos add salt.
With more and more Filipinos adding processed food to their diets the problem of high salt intake is getting worse. It is also common for them to add even more salt when preparing processed food that is already high in salt.
Myths about salt
Myth: I don’t add salt to my food so I don’t eat too much salt.
Truth: Salt has probably already been added to your food when it is cooked. Food such as bread, cheese, biscuits, junk food, sauces and ketchup all have a lot of salt in them.
Myth: I don’t need to eat less salt as I don’t have high blood pressure.
Truth: Even when your blood pressure is in the healthy range you are still at risk. Blood pressure also rises with age, so if you are eating a lot of salt the risk is more as you get older.
Myth: You can tell when food is salty because it has a salty taste.
Truth: Not all foods that have a lot of salt taste salty. Sauces, ketchup, cakes, biscuits, cereals, bread and many other foods have hidden salt.
Myth: I only use rock salt and that’s healthier than table salt.
Truth: Both Rock and sea salt contain just as much sodium chloride as table salt, so are just as bad for your health.
Myth: Food with less salt has no taste.
Truth: Just 3 weeks after cutting down on salt your taste buds become more sensitive, so you can get the same flavour from less salt. Many types of meat have a great flavour with no added seasoning. Us British dish up a lot of meats with little or no seasoning. When Filipinos taste my roast chicken they are amazed how good it tastes, some have even said it is the first time they have ever eaten chicken with no added flavour.
Myth: You need more salt in the Philippines because it’s hot and you sweat a lot.
Truth: The amount of salt you lose while sweating is very low. As you probably eat more salt than you need you don’t need extra salt. The extra salt needed in hot weather is probably less than 1 gram a day so would still only make it 6 grams a day.
Advice on cutting down on salt
Rock salt and sea salt and many salt substitutes are just as bad for you so should be avoided.
Do not add salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice and vegetables, they do not need salt added.
Fruit does not need dipping in salt or soy sauce. In many countries they do not dip fruit in salt in fact they find the thought of it repulsive.
Improve the taste of food with herbs and spices (avoid prepared ones as they are full of salt) you can also use calamansi to flavour food.
Dried fish is dried in salt so it is best to avoid it and eat fresh fish. If you do have to eat dried fish it should be soaked in water for 24 hours to remove a lot of the salt.
Smoked food is often high in salt.