This fact sheet aims to provide information on salt and how to reduce your intake.
How much to use?
Guidance is to consume less than 6g of salt per day. Around 75% of salt we eat is already added to food we buy, so check labels carefully; most products identify the amount of salt per 100g of product however, some may state the amount of sodium instead. Salt is Sodium Chloride and is made from 40% sodium and 60% chloride, therefore, guidance is to consume less than 2.4g of sodium per day. This is an upper limit; try to reduce as far as possible to maximise heatlh benefits.
Did you know?
Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt—this is where the word “salary” comes from.
Risks associated with too much salt
The main consequence of too much salt consumption is hypertension (high blood pressure).
Hypertension is a leading cause of disease, death and disability. Excess salt (or sodium) increases the risk of developing hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
High blood pressure means the heart must work harder; over time this makes blood vessels become stiff and narrow, making it easier for fatty deposits to cause obstruction, limiting blood to the heart or brain leading to heart attack or stroke.
Other adverse effects include increased risk of: kidney disease, kidney stones, blindness, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Sources of salt in the diet
Salt consumption mainly comes from:
- Adding salt while cooking
- Adding salt to food at the table
- Takeaways e.g. chow mein, pizza, chips, burger,
fish, fried chicken
- Salty foods, including foods where salt may sometimes be “hidden” (e.g. bread) Some potentially high salt food examples:
Cheese, olives, capers, soups, chips with added salt, crisps, bread, pizza, salted nuts.
Cured meats: bacon, ham, salami, pastrami, salt beef, sausages.
Fish: prawns, smoked salmon, anchovies.Coated chicken: e.g. nuggets and kiev.
Sauces: tomato ketchup, brown sauce, English mustard, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chilli sauce, mayonnaise, tartare sauce, salad cream, thousand Island, French dressing, pasta sauces.
Tips to reduce sugar consumption
- Cook from scratch and add minimal salt.
- Use low sodium alternatives e.g. Lo Salt.
- Flavour food with herbs and spices.
- Taste foods before adding salt – gradually reduce salt and your tastebuds will change so you don’t miss it.
- Make your own marinades to infuse flavour into foods (avoid ready-made ones which may have a lot of salt).
- Switch salty snacks for unsalted ones e.g. unsalted popcorn, fruit, yoghurt.
- Minimise salty processed meats, cheeses and breakfast cereals; swap with white meats (e.g. chicken and turkey), eggs, vegetables and whole grain cereals.
- When buying tinned or processed foods, check the salt content and buy products with less salt e.g. tinned fish in water rather than brine or oil.
- Reduce portion sizes of meats and/or have some meals each week meat free.
Many packaged foods have “traffic light” labels to help consumers identify the amount of energy, fat (total and saturated), sugars and salt (per 100g of product) in the food. If a “portion” is bigger than 100g for a food (or 150ml for a drink), there are additional criteria: if more than 30% of the recommended reference intake is in one portion, it will automatically be high/red.
Check before you buy! Remember to look at all highlighted nutrients; buying a product green for salt but red for fat, saturated fat and sugar, will not be a healthy choice.
Some great food flavourings to keep handy:
- Fresh ginger, chilies and herbs (keep herbs in a pot on the windowsill or outside).
- Balsamic vinegar
- Reduced salt sauces (check the label, some may still be “amber” or “red” for salt so unhealthy!).
FoodSwitch UK is a free app which allows you to scan food and drink barcodes to immediately see whether they are high, medium or low in total fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. FoodSwitch UK also looks for similar, but healthier, alternative products; this provides an easy means of making healthier food choices. Find out more.