The more salt we consume, the more at risk it puts us of heart disease and stroke, which annually claims the lives of over 78 000 people in SA.

At 41%, SA’s discretionary salt consumption per day is exceptionally high compared to most other Westernised countries’ 15%.

Research done by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences in the US suggests people who tend to salt their food more could be ‘supertasters’. These are people whose sense of taste is heightened possibly due to the TAS2R38 bitter taste receptor gene.

Supertasters typically add more salt to their food to disguise or cancel out the bitter taste the palate picks up when eating certain foods such as cheddar cheese, broccoli, spinach, or olives for example. Whereas those with a more neutral sense of taste are less inclined to add additional salt.

Currently, SA’s discretionary salt consumption sits at 41% a day, which may indicate that many South Africans have been dealt the ‘supertaster’ gene, especially if one considers in most other Westernised countries the discretionary use of salt is in the region of 15%, pointing to a more neutral sense of taste.

Even though modern medicine can help patients to manage symptoms, it’s important to tackle the root cause if we are to curb the growing number of diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, which are primarily related to lifestyle.

“What tastes good to us largely drives what we eat and if supertasters mask certain tastes by adding more salt, they may find it much more challenging than others to follow a low-salt diet,” said Nicole Jennings (Pharma Dynamics spokesperson).

“Once you know your ‘salt status’ and have identified yourself as a supertaster, you need to be extra aware of your salt use. Supertasters can train their taste buds by shifting their sense of taste to enjoy foods made with less sodium by using natural herbs and spices instead of salt to achieve the desired taste. They could use fresh garlic, basil, dill, oregano, lemon, or red pepper flakes as healthy alternatives to salt,” said Jennings.

Experts estimate that limiting salt consumption could decrease 11% of deaths from heart disease per year and save the SA government in the region of R713 million per annum in healthcare fees. Salt consumption in SA remains alarmingly high with most adults ingesting as much as 40g a day, which is way above the World Health Organisation’s recommended intake of less than 5g a day.

HOW CAN PATIENTS DETERMINE IF THEY’RE SUPERTASTERS

  • Use a Phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) strip to detect a definite taste. Test strips treated with PTC may taste bitter, sweet, or salty depending on the chemical and genetic make-up of the taster. A supertaster won’t be able to stand the bitter taste on the strips.
  • Using food colouring, dye your tongue blue, then stick a hole reinforcer (the white round stickers used to reinforce the holes made in paper when placing them in a file) on your tongue. Using a magnifying glass, get someone to count the pink bumps on your tongue within the hole of the sticker. If you have more than 35 pink bumps (papillae) you’re likely to be a supertaster. If you have 15-35 papillae, you are an average or medium taster. Anything under 15 makes you a non-taster.