Why do you need it?

You need small amounts of sodium so your body can conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles and maintain the right balance of water and minerals in your body fluids. It’s essential for good health but we tend to have too much of it because we get a plentiful supply of sodium in salt – sodium chloride.

Babies should NOT be given salt because their immature kidneys are not able to process it. Breastfed infants will get the right amount of minerals from breast milk and formula milk contains a similar amount. Don’t add salt to your baby’s milk or food and avoid using stock cubes, gravy, processed foods and ready meals as they’re often high in salt. Food made specifically for babies should meet the recommended levels.  

Sodium (or salt) raises blood pressure by making you hold on to water in your bloodstream, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High sodium can also increase the risk of gastric cancer, obesity, Meniere’s disease and kidney disease. High sodium intake also increases calcium lost in urine which can weaken your bones. 

Salt is used as a preservative, binder and stabiliser so it’s widely used even in products you might not expect to find salt in. In some countries, for example, salt is used in chicken to absorb water to increase the weight and profitability.

Lack of sodium usually occurs in situations when you have extreme sodium losses through prolonged sweating (physical exertion, working in hot conditions) or due to an illness causing vomiting and diarrhoea or a chronic condition (kidney disease).


Sodium deficiency is extremely unlikely in healthy individuals. Symptoms of sodium deficiency include headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, muscle spasms or cramps and seizures.

How much do you need?

For adults, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than two grams of sodium a day, which is equivalent to less than five grams of salt – just under a teaspoon. For children aged two to 15 years, WHO recommends adjusting the adult dose downward based on their energy requirements.

WHO says that all salt that is consumed should be iodised (fortified with iodine), which is essential for healthy brain development in the foetus and young child and improving everyone’s mental function in general.

Source: WHO. 2013. WHO issues new guidance on dietary salt and potassium. Available at:

Where to find sodium

Most of the salt in Ugandan diets comes from packaged foods. Processed foods such as pickles, soya sauce, stock cubes, yeast extract, pasta sauces, crisps, pizza, ready meals, soup, sandwiches, tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces can contain high levels of sodium.

Salt is listed on food labels as sodium, so when you check the nutrition information panel, look for products with the lowest sodium or choose ones marked “no added salt” or “low-salt”. When cooking at home, try using herbs and spices or lemon instead of salt to bring out the flavour of your food.