Salt is essential for health but we need only very small amounts of it. Most of the time, we consume too much salt for our own good.
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000mg of sodium, or 5g of salt per day, while the American Heart Association has stricter guidelines, recommending sodium consumption be kept to less than 1,500mg a day.
Here in Singapore, the average intake of salt of an average adult is 9g per day, far exceeding the recommended 5g per day, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) said on its website.
"High salt intake will increase water absorption and blood volume, and, thus, increase blood pressure," said Dr Aaron Wong, head and senior consultant at the department of cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore.
High blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Dr Wong added: "In patients with heart failure and resultant poor heart pumping action, the rise in blood volume leads to increased pressure in the lungs - causing breathlessness - and the right heart chamber, causing swelling of the legs and abdomen."
Excessive consumption of salt-preserved, cured or smoked food has also been associated with higher risk of stomach cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. The increased risk is attributed to salt and sodium nitrates commonly used as preservatives in these products, said the HPB.
The good news is that studies have shown that reducing sodium intake from salt and other sources can help to lower blood pressure in both healthy individuals and individuals with high blood pressure, it said.
Dr Wong said: "The mechanism of diuretics, one of the medicines used to treat high blood pressure, is to therefore promote salt loss through urination in order to reduce the blood pressure."
He added: "High salt intake does not directly cause heart disease. However, if a patient has high blood pressure or heart failure, high salt intake should be avoided."
Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.