Spotlight on... low-salt diets
Moderation is key when it comes to salt consumption. Nutritionist Jo Lewin discusses recommended daily allowances, foods to avoid and the health implications of a low-salt diet.
Salt is one of the simplest, most important ingredients on the planet. However, with the increase in consumption of processed foods, excessive salt consumption has become a risk to our health. The ability of the simple white crystals to preserve food founded civilisations and continues to be integral in the kitchen - simply imagine a world without pickles!
It is believed Roman soldiers were paid with salt; the word salary derives from the Latin salarium possibly referring to the money given to soldiers so they could buy salt.
The term 'salt of the earth' refers to those with 'great worth and reliability'.
Salt and blood pressure...
Salt is made up of sodium chloride. Too much sodium can be harmful to our health and should only be eaten in small amounts. Salt contributes to high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a heart attack. It is the sodium in salt that contributes to high blood pressure by disrupting the balance of electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride and magnesium) in the body. Most people eat far more salt than they need.
Salt Reference Intake
It is recommended that adults have no more than 6g of salt a day or 2.4g of sodium (less for children). That's about one teaspoonful. There is sodium in all types of salt whether it is salt in grains, crystals or flakes. Approximately three-quarters of the salt we eat is 'hidden' in packaged/processed foods.
From December 2014 all food labels were required to only list salt - this makes it easier for us to understand how much salt is in a product. Previously salt was often labelled as sodium, which required us to calculate the salt equivalent - this can be done by multiplying the sodium amount by two and a half, e.g. 0.5g sodium x 2.5 - 1.25g salt.
Salt (g) per 100g
- High salt – more than 1.5g
- Medium salt – between 1.5-0.3g
- Low salt – equal to or less than 0.3g
Sodium (g) per 100g
- High salt – more than 0.6g
- Medium salt – between 0.6-0.1g
- Low salt – equal to or less than 0.1g
Information on salt intake recommendations for children of different ages.
Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and stroke. It is the most common cause of death in the UK. People with high blood pressure - known as hypertension - have a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The only way of knowing if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured by your doctor. A blood pressure reading below 130/80mmHg is considered to be normal.
If you are experiencing symptoms of headaches, breathlessness, nose bleeds or problems with sight it is advised you go to your GP to check your blood pressure. For more information visit www.bhf.org.uk
If you have high blood pressure, it is essential to try and control it. Even reducing your blood pressure by a small amount can lower your risk. You can do the following things:
- Do more physical activity
- Keep to a healthy weight
- Cut down on salt
- Cut down on alcohol
- Eat more fruit and vegetables
Tips for reducing salt intake
- Omit salt when you are preparing food and taste before you season.
- Learn to enjoy the flavours of unsalted food – you will find that within a few weeks your taste buds will get used to it.
- Try low salt substitutes (various brands available online or from health shops).
- Try flavouring foods with pepper, garlic, herbs, spices and lemon juice instead of salt.
- Read food labels carefully to determine the amounts of salt (sodium) and learn to recognise ingredients that contain sodium e.g. soy sauce, brine, mono sodium glutamate, baking soda.
- Look for words that can signal high salt content such as barbecued, broth, marinated, pickled and smoked.
- Cut down on processed foods that contain a lot of salt.
Examples of foods where some brands or recipes are high in salt
- Baked beans
- Breakfast cereals
- Bread products, such as crumpets, bagels, ciabatta
- Cooking & pasta sauces
- Crisps & salted nuts
- Instant noodles
- Packet/canned soup
- Ready meals
- Sausages & burgers
- Tomato ketchup, Mayonnaise, etc
Foods that are often high in salt
- Dry roasted nuts
- Gravy granules and stock cubes
- Salt fish
- Smoked meat & fish
- Soy sauce
Strike a balance
The occasional dip into some salted crisps, olives or smoked salmon isn't going to harm you as the body monitors salt levels and excretes excess in our urine. Reduce the amount of salt in your diet progressively so you learn to live with less.
Reduced salt alternatives
These contain 30% less salt than the standard product, but they are not sodium free. Because these alternatives taste salty, they don't help you get used to less salty flavours. It's better to gradually reduce the amount of salt you eat until finally you eat hardly any added salt at all. If you are doing high levels of physical activity or are in a hot climate which means you are likely to be losing a certain amount of sodium through perspiration then your salt needs may vary. If you are unsure please consult your GP.
Reduced salt alternatives are not suitable for some people so always check with your doctor before using these products.
Try and cook more meals using basic ingredients for example meat, fish, vegetables, pulses and beans instead of eating processed foods or ready meals.
Using herbs and spices to flavour foods will reduce the need for salt content:
Keralan hake curry
Lovely low-salt salads make a healthy supper and increase vegetable intake:
Herb & chilli salad
Want to try making your own bread?
Toasted cumin flatbreads
This article was last reviewed on 26 June 2019 by Kerry Torrens.
A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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