Salt: All you need to know

By Hannah Buckland, Healthy Hearts Care Planner

Salt is an essential nutrient which our bodies need in order to function properly. However, we know that too much salt can be bad for our health, and public health messages consistently encourage us to cut down. In this article, we aim to provide you with all the information you need to know about salt, as well as some practical tips for reducing salt in your diet.

Salt is required for several physiological processes, including muscle function, fluid and electrolyte balance, neuronal activity and nutrient absorption. Yet research shows that a diet high in salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. For this reason, it is recommended that adults eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – the equivalent of one teaspoon. Although you may think you don’t add much salt to your food, around 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, cheese, cereals and sauces. For this reason, it can be all too easy to exceed the daily recommendation without realising it. Indeed, the average intake of salt in the UK is too high, at around 8g a day.

Salt is an acquired taste which means that, over time, you get used to having a certain amount in your diet. If you cut back drastically, you’ll likely notice that your food may taste a little bland. However, if you reduce your salt consumption slowly and steadily, replacing it with other seasonings, you won’t notice the loss so much. After just 3 weeks, your taste buds will adapt and become more sensitive to salt, so that a smaller amount will give you the same flavour. Why not give it a go? We’ve included some top tips for how to reduce salt in your diet:

– Be mindful of foods high in salt, for example bacon, cheese, gravy, ham, olives, pickles, salami, salted nuts, salt fish, soy sauce, stock cubes. Aim to eat these less often and in smaller amounts

– Other foods that can be high in salt include bread, sauces, crisps, pizza, soup, ready meals, sandwiches, and breakfast cereals. The salt content in these foods varies widely between brands and varieties, so check the label and compare products. The traffic light system is really useful here – try to avoid reds where possible

– Don’t confuse salt and sodium figures on food labels. To convert sodium to salt, multiply the sodium amount by 2.5. For example, 1g of sodium per 100g is equivalent to 2.5g of salt per 100g

– Whether you’re eating at home, cooking or eating out, try to avoid adding salt to your food automatically – taste it first!

– If you eat tinned vegetables and/or pulses, try to buy the ones without added salt. If you can’t, rinse the contents before cooking or serving

– Use soy sauce, mustard, mayonnaise and other table sauces in moderation, as these can be high in salt

– Swap salt for spices, herbs and other seasonings (e.g. black pepper) when you cook.

– Try making your own soups and sauces rather than buying pre-made jar ones, using fresh ingredients like tomatoes and garlic.

By following these tips, you can significantly reduce your salt consumption. Research has shown, that reducing salt can be just as important as stopping smoking when it comes to reducing cardiovascular disease, so this can be a really effective way to improve your health outcomes. If you’re looking for more useful dietary tips and information, why not join us at Healthy Hearts? We provide 1-1 guidance and online courses to help you achieve a heart healthy lifestyle.

References

Action on Salt (2020). Salt and Your Health. Action on Salt. Available from http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/ [Accessed 10th August 2020].

NHS (2018). Salt: the facts. NHS. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/ [Accessed 10th August 2020].

NHS (2018). Tips for a lower salt diet. NHS. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/tips-for-a-lower-salt-diet/ [Accessed 10th August 2020].

Rhitrition (2020). How much salt is too much & what are the side effects? Rhitrition. Available from https://rhitrition.com/how-much-salt-is-too-much/ [Accessed 10th August 2020].

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