This study investigated the preference and intake frequency of a list of 15 commonly available high sodium Malaysian foods/dishes, discretionary salt use, and their possible association with demographics, blood pressures and anthropometric measurements among 300 Malaysian university students (114 males, 186 females; 259 ethnic Chinese, 41 Indians; 220 lean, 80 overweight). French fries and instant soup noodle were found to be the most preferred and most frequently consumed salty food, respectively, while salted fish was least preferred and least frequently consumed. Males had a significantly higher intake frequency of at least 6 of the salty foods, but the preference of most salty foods was not significantly different between genders. Ethnic Chinese significantly preferred more and took more frequently traditional and conventional Malaysian foods like asam laksa (a Malaysian salty-sour-spicy noodle in fish stock), salted biscuits and salted vegetable, while Indians have more affinity and frequency towards eating salty Western foods. Body Mass Index was significantly negatively correlated with the intake frequency of canned/packet soup and salted fish while waist circumference was significantly positively correlated with the preference of instant noodle. Also, an increased preference of potato chips and intake frequency of salted biscuits seemed to lead to a decreased WHR. Other than these, all the other overweight/obesity indicators did not seem to fully correlate with the salty food preference and intake frequency. Nevertheless, the preference and intake frequency of asam laksa seemed to be significant negative predictors for blood pressures. Finally, increased preference and intake frequency of high sodium shrimp paste (belacan)-based foods like asam laksa and belacan fried rice seemed to discourage discretionary salt use. In conclusion, the preference and intake frequency of the high sodium belacan-based dish asam laksa seems to be a good predictor for ethnic difference, discretionary salt use and blood pressures.
Keywords: Malaysian foods and dishes; Preference; high sodium; intake frequency; obesity.