Salt: Halt salt for health

You might be surprised to learn that it is not just the salt you add to your meal that is important, it's also the salt which is contained in many everyday foods.

What is salt?

Salt is the common name for sodium chloride. It's entirely natural and has been used for hundreds of years to preserve meat and fish and add flavour to food.

Small amounts of sodium, the element that makes up 40 per cent of salt, is essential for the transmission of nerve impulses, the contraction of muscles and to maintain the body's fluid balance. However, excessive amounts over many years can lead to several health problems.

What is the difference between salt and sodium?

Nutrition labels on most packs of food show the amount of sodium in the food. To work out the amount of salt, you have to multiply the sodium content in grams by two-and-a-half (since 1g of sodium =2.5g salt).

Why should I be cutting down on my salt intake?

It is now widely recognised that eating too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, which in turn may increase the risk of developing heart disease or a stroke.1 It is also widely known that a high salt diet has other adverse effects, such as osteoporosis, bone thinning and asthma, and is closely linked to cancer of the stomach.3,4

Where is salt found in the diet?

Salt is added to food both commercially and in the home as a flavour enhancer, a preservative and a textural ingredient. In the UK, a staggering 75 per cent of a person's dietary salt intake comes from processed foods such a ready meals, soups, cured and processed meat, bottled sauces, pickles, salty snacks and some breakfast cereals. The salt added when cooking or at the table contributes a further 10-15 per cent and naturally occurring salt represents the remaining 10 per cent.5

How much should we be eating?

Government recommendation of 6g of salt per day (equivalent to 2.4 grams of sodium). For children aged 1 to 6 years the target salt intake is 2g a day, and for children aged 7 to 14 years it is 5g.5

Top salt tips to lower your cholesterol:

  • Get out of the habit of adding salt at the table
  • Always check the label. Look for foods with ‘no added salt' labels or check for ‘reduced salt' versions of old favourites
  • Scan food labels for either the salt or sodium content. As a guide, more than 0.5g of sodium (1.25g salt) per 100g is a lot, and less than 0.1g sodium (0.25g salt) is a little
  • Try switching to a salt replacement product. They taste similar to salt, but have about two-thirds of the sodium content
  • Add less salt to cooking
  • Choose foods canned in water rather than brine
  • Be sparing with sauces they are usually very high in salt
  • Cut down on salty snacks such as crisps. Go for low-salt snacks such as dried fruit or sticks of vegetables
  • Try to eat less heavily salted foods. Foods such as bacon, processed meats, cheese, sausages, meat pies, pickles, smoked fish and many ready-prepared meals often contain a high level of salt

References:
1. MacGregor G A. Nutrition and blood pressure. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 1999; 9:6-15.
2. Nancy R Cook, et al. Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention. British Medical Journal 2007; BMJ Online First.
3. Devine A, Criddle R A, Dick I M, Kerr D A, Prince R L. A longitudinal study of the effect of sodium and calcium intakes on regional bone density in postmenopausal women.Am J Clin Nutr. 1995; 62: 740-5.
4. Joossens J V, Hill M J, Elliott P, Stamler R, Lesaffre E, Dyer A, Nichols R, Kesteloot H. Dietary salt, nitrate and stomach cancer mortality in 24 countries. European Cancer Prevention (ECP) and the INTERSALT Cooperative Research Group. Int J Epidemiol. 1996; 25: 494-504.
5. Salt (sodium chloride), British Nutrition Foundation. 2005.