What is salt?

Salt is a mineral composed of two elements, sodium and chloride; you may also see it referred to as 'sodium'. There are many types of salt that come from either the sea or from deposits in the earth. Table salt, the type found in most saltshakers, is typically derived from underground earth deposits. It is refined and ground, which alters its composition, and may have anti-caking agents added to extend its shelf life.


Read more about low-salt diets and how much salt children should have, and get inspired with our low-salt recipes.

What are the signs you're eating too much salt?

We’re programmed to crave salt because it plays a key role in the body – both sodium and chloride are major electrolytes that help regulate fluid balance and are involved in sending messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

A diet high in sodium (salt) is linked to high blood pressure. This forces the heart to work harder and, over time, may increase our risk of heart attack and even premature death. We’re all consequently advised to restrict our intake, and the food industry has been set salt reduction targets. But with salt hidden in common ready-made meals and snacks, how can we be sure we’re not eating too much?

You may not be aware that you have high blood pressure, but there are some signs you may be consuming too much salt. Here's what to watch out for…

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  • Your kidneys have the job of removing fluid and waste products from your body. If you eat too much salt, they can’t do their job properly, and the levels of water and salt in your blood are thrown out of kilter. This can lead to water retention – so watch out for swollen ankles. If you are on prescribed medication and you have noticed a change in fluid balance, discuss this with your GP.
  • Excess thirst is a well known side effect of consuming too much salt. Even if you don’t realise you’re thirsty, you might notice you’re going to the loo more often.
  • Finally, if you do experience high blood pressure, the early warning signs of this can include blurred vision, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and headaches. However, the only way of really knowing is to have your blood pressure tested.

Beware also that salt has been linked to stomach cancer and may exacerbate conditions such as kidney stones and osteoporosis.

How much salt should I eat?

UK dietary guidelines suggest adults consume no more than 6g (approximately one teaspoon) of salt per day. This includes the salt already in our food, and the salt added during and after cooking. However, most of us consume more than this, predominantly in the form of hidden salt in the foods we buy.

How do I know if a product is high in salt?

One way to keep a check on the amount of salt you eat is to get into the habit of reading labels on the back of food packs. Look to see if the product is high, medium or low in salt by checking this handy guide:

High = more than 1.5 g per 100g
Medium = between 0.3g and 1.5g per 100g
Low = 0.3g or less per 100g

Which foods are high in hidden salt?

Some foods are naturally high in salt, such as sauerkraut and olives, while others vary depending on the brand and variety. Below are a few of the most common culprits to look out for, along with our homemade alternatives...


Filling the house with the smell of baking bread is far nicer than buying a processed loaf from the supermarket. Salt is an important ingredient when we bake bread because it plays a key role in creating volume and structure to your dough. That said, there are some breads where salt isn’t needed. Try making these wholemeal flatbreads.

Breakfast cereals

Worryingly, some breakfast cereals – including those targeted at children – have a high salt content, so always check labels. Why not make your own using rolled oats, dried fruit and natural sweeteners such as honey or vanilla extract?

Make your own:


Row of condiment bottles on a white background

Even something as simple as tomato ketchup can be stacked with salt. Some popular brands now offer reduced-salt and -sugar versions, but be aware that some of the low-salt Asian sauces can actually contain more salt than the regular ones. So why not play it safe with homemade.

Make your own:

Pasta sauce

This simple staple could be hiding more salt than you think – particularly reduced-fat tomato-based sauces, which have been found to be among the saltiest on the shelves.

Make your own:


It's probably not a surprise to hear that one of our favourite takeaways is packed with salt. The doughy base, meaty toppings and extra cheese are all salty ingredients, and even the tomato sauce can contain a lot of salty seasoning.

Make your own:

Plant-based vegan ‘meats’

Vegan ‘meat’ products may be lower in calories and saturated fat and contain fibre, but they tend be high in salt, with three out of four of these shop-bought products said to exceed salt targets.

See all our healthy vegan recipes.

Ready meals

Many food manufacturers formulate their products to hit the 'bliss point' – that is, the perfect point at which taste and mouthfeel stimulate our brain to release the feel-good chemical dopamine, encouraging us to eat more. To achieve this, salt, sugar and fat are added.

As a result, ready-meals and processed foods tend to be high in salt and generally an unhealthy choice.

Make your own:


Pre-packed sandwiches are typically well labelled so it’s easy to avoid those high in salt. The salt content often comes from the bread, butter or spread, as well as fillings such as ham, cheese, prawns, pickles and bacon.

Make your own:


It's frustrating to think that a seemingly healthy and nourishing choice can also be packed with salt when you buy it ready-made. Luckily, making your own is quick, easy and delicious.

Make your own:

Enjoyed this? Now read…

Good Food's guide to healthy eating
What are electrolytes and do I need to replenish them?
Is vegan ‘meat’ healthy?
Top 10 health foods to avoid

Get inspired...

Low-salt breakfast recipes
Low-salt snack recipes
Low-salt lunch recipes
Low-salt dinner recipes

This article was last reviewed on 22 May 2024 by Kerry Torrens.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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