Consuming excessive amounts of salt is bad for you, yet some salt is required for your body to function properly.
Here are some facts on salt in food, recommendations on just how much “some salt” is healthy, and what to do to add flavour to your cooking when you want to keep salt levels down.
FSA salt reduction targets
In May 2009 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published voluntary salt reduction targets for 2012 for 80 categories of food replacing the previous targets for 2010.
A high salt intake can cause high blood pressure which increases your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (1).
Other diseases including osteoporosis and cancer have also been linked to a high salt intake as the acid / alkaline balance of the body can be disrupted. This can negatively affect bone mineral density (2).
Daily salt allowance
Adults should have no more than 6 grams of salt daily, that is only a teaspoon of salt a day. The daily recommended maximum for children is as follows:
- 0 – 12 months – 1g salt a day (0.4g sodium)
- 1 to 3 years – 2 g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
- 11 and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)
Food labelling and salt
On a food label, salt is often referred to as sodium and 1 gram of sodium is roughly the same as 2.5 grams of salt. It is the sodium that can lead to health problems. Always check the label to see how much salt is in the food per 100 grams and choose products that are lower in salt.
It is mainly the hidden salt in processed foods which has led to an increase in salt consumption. The main culprits are ready meals, breakfast cereals, tinned foods, sauces, pizzas, sandwiches, crisps, salted nuts, processed meats and bread. On even the healthiest diet it is easy to forget where these foods creep into our daily consumption thus adding considerably to our salt intake.
Many food manufactures, retailers and caterers have already decreased the salt content in their foods or are working towards the voluntary targets. However, vigilance where food labels are concerned and awareness of those high salt foods to avoid, are the steps consumers need take to avoid excess salt in their diet.
Remember a diet high in natural non-processed foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, is guaranteed to reduce salt intake whilst increasing all those natural vitamins, minerals and chemicals which help maintain the perfect biochemical balance.
Healthier options and salt alternatives
Sodium, potassium and chloride are mineral salts that are intricately related in the healthy functioning of the body. Therefore we do need some intake of salt, but for most people eating a healthy natural diet this can be adequately supplied in foods such as unprocessed meat and fish and fruit and vegetables such as avocado, celery, spinach and cantaloupe melon. An optimum ratio of potassium to sodium is vital to cellular functioning, particularly our muscle and nerve cells.
Researchers recommend a dietary potassium-to-sodium ratio of greater than 5:1 to maintain optimal health. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables will provide plenty of potassium.
Sodium chloride is refined table salt and has little mineral value and should be avoided. Un-refined varieties such as Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Crystal Salt can contain around 84 different minerals. Consuming these un-refined mineral salts in moderation can have many health benefits. Solo low sodium salt is an Icelandic salt containing 60% less sodium than table salt and significant amounts of potassium and magnesium.
There are lots of ways to add flavour to your cooking to reduce the need for salt:
- Add fresh herbs to pasta dishes, vegetables and meat.
- Marinate meat and fish in advance to give them more flavour.
- Use garlic, ginger, chilli and lime in stir fries.
- Add red wine to stews and casseroles, and white wine to risottos and sauces for chicken.
- Make your own stock and gravy, instead of using cubes or granules, or look out for reduced-salt varieties.
- Roast vegetables such as red peppers, courgettes, fennel, parsnips and squash to bring out their flavour.
- Squeeze lemon juice onto fish or seafood.
- Try using different types of onion – brown, red, white, spring onions, shallots.
- Make sauces using ripe flavoursome tomatoes and garlic.
- Use black pepper as seasoning on pasta, scrambled egg etc instead of salt.
- Add grain mustard, chopped spring onions or natural yoghurt to mashed potato
- Use seaweed flakes sprinkled on food or in cooking.
Always eat unsalted nuts instead of salted or dry-roasted. Go easy with ketchup, soy sauce, mustard, pickles and mayonnaise as these can be high in salt. Train your taste buds not to need salty tasting food.
Eating too much sodium, combined with too few vegetables leaves us deficient in magnesium, which relaxes muscles. Epsom Bath Salts are rich in magnesium and other minerals. Add these salts to a hot bath and the minerals will be absorbed through the skin whilst we soak and relax.
(1) Cook, N.R., Cutler, J.A., Obarzanek, E., Buring, J. E., Rexrode, K.M., Kumanyika, S.K., Appel, L.J. and Whelton P.K., (2007). Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovacular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP). BMJ. 334;885.
(2) Woo, J., Kwok, T., Leung, J., Tang, N., (2009) Dietary intake, blood pressure and osteoporosis. Journal of Human Hypertension 23, 451-455.