Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Reducing sodium intake in our diets

Discover the path to healthier living with one low-sodium choice at a time, amidst Singapore’s sodium-rich culinary landscape.

In the culinary paradise that is Singapore, people have access to a wide array of mouth-watering options from various cultures. Often rich in flavour, it is no surprise that many of these diverse delicacies come with substantial amounts of dietary sodium (in the form of salt added to enhance taste).

Sodium vs Salt

About 40% of table salt (also known as sodium chloride) is sodium. Sodium is a mineral that is found naturally in food. Our body needs sodium for normal muscle and nerve functions, but excessive sodium intake is a key risk factor for developing chronic diseases.

Risks of overconsumption

While our bodies need sodium for normal bodily functions, excessive sodium intake can cause our bodies to act like a sponge, retaining water in our bodies. This leads to an increase in blood volume, which in turn elevates blood pressure.

Over time, this high pressure strains the blood vessels, potentially causing damage. Such damage is a key risk factor in the development of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack or sudden death. It can also constrict and narrow the blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing blood flow and stopping the kidneys from functioning properly.

Sources of sodium

Salt, sauces and seasoning (such as oyster sauce, chicken stock, anchovy cubes) that are added when preparing food like stir-fries, marinades, or stock, constitutes the largest portion of our dietary sodium intake. Less commonly known is the presence of hidden sodium in sweet or sour foods such as tomato ketchup and cornflakes. “Singapore is known to be a food paradise — and what makes our dishes so flavourful? Very often, our dishes are loaded with gravies and sauces, which are key sources of sodium,” says Ms Debbie Thong, Principal Dietitian, Changi General Hospital (CGH).

Other sources of dietary sodium are canned or processed food such as Chinese salted vegetables, salted egg, luncheon meat, instant noodles and savoury snacks like potato chips and prawn crackers.

Currently, more than a third of Singapore’s population suffers from high blood pressure. In 2022, a Singaporean’s average sodium intake was 1.8 times more than the World Health Organization’s recommended daily allowance of 2,000 milligrams, the equivalent of about one teaspoon of regular salt.


Enjoying in moderation

“There may be the misconception that making healthier choices will take the enjoyment out of eating,” says Ms Thong. “The good news is that we can re-train our tastebuds and reduce our salty cravings. We can make healthy choices, take small steps, and gradually adjust the amount of sodium consumed. It is still possible to eat out as this is part of our Singaporean lifestyle.”

How can we eat out while consuming a healthier amount of sodium?

  • Reduce sodium intake when dining out — avoid drinking all the soup in soup-based dishes, and ask for less gravy and sauce
  • Ask for sauces to be served on the side. Taste the food first — extra gravies or dipping sauces may not need to be added
  • Choose plain rice over flavoured rice (briyani/chicken/fried rice)
  • Limit consumption of processed food such as canned, salted, cured, smoked and pickled foods, convenience and pre-packaged foods. Avoid eating at places where you do not know how much salt is being added. Ask for less or no salt or sauces added during cooking
  • Choose healthier choice lower-sodium options and look out for food products and beverages that use lower-sodium ingredients, indicated by the Healthier Choice logo ‘Lower-sodium options’

Dietetics at CGH

Within the hospital, CGH dietitians educate and engage patients, providing diet counselling and nutrition support to help them achieve positive health outcomes. This helps patients and their caregivers manage their acute and chronic conditions better. CGH dietitians also educate and empower the community to make healthy dietary choices through various programmes such as nutrition workshops. Some of these sessions focus on specific conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

When shopping for food

  • Choose products with less sodium, such as those labelled with ‘reduced salt’, ‘no added salt’ or ‘salt-free’
  • Avoid products that list salt or sodium as one of the first three ingredients, as this means sodium is among the largest components
  • Consider replacing salt with natural alternatives, such as garlic, onion, black/white pepper, lemon, or various herbs and spices

Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) as unhealthy as we perceive?

One teaspoon of MSG actually contains less sodium than one teaspoon of table salt (sodium chloride). However, the sodium that exists in MSG will still be unhealthy for us when consumed in excess. Therefore, the key is moderation.



Reducing sodium intake in our diets