Less Salt, More Health

By Dr Roseline Yap Wai Kuan
Nutritionist, Nutrition Society of Malaysia

Read in BM | Chinese
Almost everyone around the world add salt to their foods to make it tastier and more appetising. Salt is also a vital source of sodium for us. Unfortunately, majority of us tend to consume more salt than the recommendation by World Health Organization which is less than a teaspoon or 5g of salt daily for adults. This is consistent with the recent finding from the Malaysian Community Salt Survey in 2019, which showed that 4 in 5 Malaysian adults consumed more salt than the recommended, with an average intake of 7.9 g of salt daily.1 This finding is alarming as overconsumption of salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is an avoidable risk factor of heart diseases, stroke and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Salt, salt everywhere!

Salt is a universal flavour enhancer used in so many food products. It is hard to avoid its ubiquitous presence in processed foods such as processed meats, salty extruded snacks (e.g. potato chips, crackers), salted fish, salted egg, salted pickles, salted nuts, instant noodles, instant creamed soup and numerous others.

Plus, various sauces such as soya sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chilli sauce, tomato ketchup, and other condiments are also high in salt and sodium. In addition to salt, these sauces are often used when cooking at home including in restaurants.

There are ways to reduce our salt intake such as limiting the intakes of high-salt processed foods, reducing the use of salt and sodium in home cooking including less dipping of foods with sauces high in sodium (e.g. chilli in soy sauce). However, all these measures may be challenging if done drastically, as you will notice how it diminishes the palatability of dishes.

Tips for tasty dishes with less salt

Fret not! With some smart strategies, we can still enjoy rich and flavourful dishes using less salt.

  • Make good use of natural flavour enhancers and whole foods
    Salt is not the only flavour enhancers available. You can also create appetising dishes with a variety of herbs (e.g. basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, oregano) and spices (e.g. cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, star anise, turmeric, cumin, fennel seed). Fruit juices or pastes from lemon, lime or tamarind are also great for cooking. Apart from that, using ripe and rich natural produce also gives you more flavourful dishes without having to add too much salt. Another way is by concentrating flavours via longer cooking time (e.g. when preparing soups, stews or sauces), which helps to yield intense flavour with less salt.
  • Use umami-rich ingredients
    Apart from sweet, sour, salty and bitter, the fifth taste has also been identified. It is called umami and also described as the meaty or savoury taste. Enhancing the umami flavour in food can help to boost the taste of dishes without adding much salt. You can use foods that are naturally rich in umami flavour, such as tomatoes, kelp, dried seaweed, anchovies, seafood, garlic, onion, Chinese cabbage, dried or fresh mushrooms, and many others. These are perfect for making stews, sauces or stir-fry dishes.
  • Use umami seasonings/monosodium glutamate
    Another alternative is to use umami seasonings, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is a pure umami seasoning that helps to enrich the taste of umami in foods without sacrificing the overall flavour. Many people often mistakenly thought that MSG is high in sodium. The fact is MSG has 3 times lower sodium content (12%) compared to table salt (39%).

    Umami seasoning can be a useful ingredient, especially for people on a low-sodium diet. MSG can be used to replace part of the salt to produce dishes with good taste, while reducing overall sodium intake. For instance, instead of using 1 teaspoon of salt for a soup recipe, use 1/2 teaspoon of MSG with 1/2 teaspoon of salt or less, up to your taste. This helps to maintain the palatability of food by stimulating both salty and umami receptors on the palate, resulting in a more complete and rounded overall taste, and at the same time control and reduce salt intake.

Controlling our salt intake is important to prevent hypertension and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other NCDs. We can do this by reducing foods that are high in salt and using less salt in our cooking. With natural flavour enhancers and umami-rich ingredients, it is possible to use less salt when cooking, while retaining a rich and flavourful taste in our dishes. Remember: less salt, better health!

This article is contributed by Nutrition Month Malaysia (NMM) 2021, an annual community nutrition education initiative jointly organised by Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA) and the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity (MASO).


1 IPH (2019). Population-Based Salt Intake Survey to Support The National Salt Reduction Programme For Malaysia (Malaysian Community Salt Survey – MyCoSS). Institute for Public Health, National Institutes of Health, Ministry of Health, Malaysia.