The way we eat has changed. We eat more processed foods, which are often cheap and easy to buy, and that means we’re also eating more salt. Too much salt can be harmful to your health, but the good news is there are simple and quick ways to cut down, without missing out on flavour.
Why too much salt is harmful
Your body needs a little bit of salt to work well. Salt helps your body to control your blood pressure, and it enables your muscles and nerves to work properly. But eating too much over a long period of time can raise your blood pressure. That in turn can increase the chances of heart attack and stroke. Too much salt doesn’t only affect cardiovascular health; it’s also a factor in kidney disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.
So, cutting down on salt makes sense. But how much salt should we be eating, and how do we know how much we are getting?
What the guidelines say
The guidelines are that you should eat no more than 6 grams of salt per day, and preferably less. If you were to take the salt out of everything you eat and put it together, 6 grams would be about a teaspoon of salt a day.
Food labels on pre-packaged foods have salt listed on them. If a food has a ‘traffic light’ label, choose those with green for salt. If there’s no traffic light label, choose foods that have less than 0.3 grams of salt per 100 grams, as these are low salt. Those with more than 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams are high-salt foods, and it’s best to give these a miss.
If you’re checking labels for salt, you might sometimes see sodium listed instead. This can be confusing, but essentially salt is the everyday term for sodium. To work out how much salt is in the food, you need to multiply sodium by 2.5. So, for example, 1 gram of sodium is the same as 2.5 grams of salt.
Exposing hidden salt
About a quarter of the salt we eat comes from the food we add in cooking and what we add ourselves to the food on the plate. The rest is hidden in processed foods, takeaways and restaurant food.
Some processed foods can be very high in salt, such as ready meals and processed meats. Other high-salt foods include cheese, smoked fish, pre-made soups and sauces, and salty snacks like crisps and nuts. And sometimes, the most surprising foods have quite a lot of added salt, such as bread and breakfast cereals. Cut down on these foods where you can, and choose the lower-salt options.
How to cut down
If you’re used to eating lots of salt then cutting down can be hard. This is because food without salt can taste boring to begin with. But, once you cut down on salt it only takes about two to three weeks for foods to stop tasting bland. When that happens, you’ll start noticing the real flavour of foods.
Here are six easy tips to help you eat less salt, but still enjoy foods that are packed with flavour.
Use powerful flavour enhancers instead of salt in cooking, like herbs and spices, vinegars, oils, lemon juice, garlic, chilli or black pepper.
- Revisit classic flavour combinations like lamb with mint or fish with lemon. Or try new combinations, such as chicken and harissa or beef and chipotle.
- Use low-salt versions of stock, or better still, make your own and freeze it.
- Add red wine to soups or stews to give a rich flavour.
- Try using a marinade on meat, such as honey, ginger, garlic and olive oil on chicken or pork.
- Use lemon juice to add flavour to lightly steamed vegetables.
If you’re eating less salt to lower your blood pressure, it’s a good idea to eat more fruit and vegetables too. They contain potassium and that acts as a kind of balance to salt; so less salt and more potassium gives you a bigger blood pressure-lowering effect. Being more active and being the right weight for your height can help to keep your blood pressure healthy too.
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