Salt: your questions answered
Our senior dietitian Victoria Taylor answers common questions about salt and how it affects our health.
We all need some salt in our diet but, on average, we’re consuming too much. Regularly eating too much salt is associated with raised blood pressure, a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.
What is salt?
By salt, we mean table salt, which is otherwise known as sodium chloride. It is the biggest source of sodium in our diets and it’s this sodium that’s the problem in relation to blood pressure. While we do need some sodium in our diet to help regulate fluid in the body, it’s unusual for us not to get enough – and only too common for us to have too much.
What’s the daily limit?
The Government recommends that we eat no more than 6g of salt a day. That’s about a teaspoon. However, we still have some way to go before we achieve the target as, on average, people consume about 8.1g a day.
Why are we going over this limit?
One of the reasons it can be tricky to reduce our salt intake is that it is often already in the foods we buy – about 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods. It’s not just in ready meals, soups and sauces, though – keep an eye on everyday foods such as breads and cereals, as well as sweet foods harbouring a salty surprise. Read food labels to make sure that you are making low-salt choices.
How can I cut back?
"Fresh and dried herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli and lemon are all great ways to add flavour"
We acquire a taste for salt and, over time, get used to a certain amount in our diets. If you cut back drastically and suddenly, you may at first find that your food tastes bland.
However, flavour doesn’t only come from salt. Fresh and dried herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli and lemon are all great ways to add flavour. So while you reduce the amount of salt you eat, substitute it with these other flavour enhancers and you won’t notice the loss as much.
Are other types of salt better for me?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that fancier types of salt are better for you. Whether it’s pink, black, rock, crystal or flakes, they still have the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt. Although less refined salts might contain more nutrients than everyday table salt, these will probably only be in very small amounts and can probably be sourced from other foods in your diet.
It’s the sodium that we really need to watch out for; we should also monitor ingredients such as fish and soy sauce and raising agents such as baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.