A small amount of salt is important for good health as it provides the body with important electrolytes that regulate things like muscle contractions, fluid balance and nerve transmission. There is generally more than enough naturally present sodium in foods to meet our bodies needs, however, most people are consuming far more sodium than they need.
First things first, let’s clear up the difference between sodium and salt… Salt is made up of sodium and chloride molecules, but it’s the sodium part that can be damaging to health which is why it’s sodium that is listed on food labels. You just need to multiply sodium by 2.5 to convert it to the equivalent amount of salt.
The average Australian consumes almost DOUBLE the amount of sodium they need for good health. What’s worrying is that our overconsumption isn’t a result of us being too heavy-handed with the salt-shaker at dinner, but it is actually hidden by manufacturers in many of the foods we buy, with processed foods being accountable for 75% of the salt in our diet.
This is just one of the reasons why I am so passionate about getting people making foods from scratch and ditching pre-packaged and processed foods where possible. I also wish the government would step in and try to do more about this issue given its humongous health burden, but that’s a whole other post…
So, what's the problem with salt?
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease. Did you know that the world health organisation estimates that high blood pressure is responsible for 17% of all deaths in high-income countries? High salt intake is especially problematic for those who already have high BP, type 2 diabetes or are obese. Other health risks associated with eating too much salt include kidney disease, stroke, oedema (fluid retention) and osteoporosis.
How much salt is too much?
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that Australian adults should aim to consume no more than one teaspoon (which is 5 grams) of salt a day (or 2,000mg of sodium a day) in order to prevent chronic disease. A regular adult body only needs around 1 – 2g of salt (460 – 920mg sodium) per day to function.
What about fancy salts (i.e. pink salt)?
It’s said that speciality salts such as pink Himalayan salts are healthier than regular salt as they contain additional trace minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium. While this is true and it’s these trace minerals that give it the pretty pink colour, they only make up approximately 2% of the salt content, the other 98% is sodium chloride. Due to the very small content of these trace minerals, it’s unlikely to offer any significant benefits, but that's not to say don’t buy it - just know its still salt and therefore still needs to be consumed in safe amounts.
There’s a few really simple ways to reduce your salt intake, which I’ve detailed below for you.
While it might seem like your food feels a little tasteless at first, don't fret and stick with it. Our taste buds can adapt to lower salt levels in a matter of weeks.
Reduce Salt When Preparing, Cooking or Eating meals:
• Start adding less salt to food when you’re cooking and keep the salt shaker off the table to avoid adding additional salt when you are eating.
• Use fresh and dried herbs, spices and acidic flavours (such as lemon juice and vinegars) to enhance the flavour of food. Start playing around with different flavours and you’ll begin to get a feel for flavours that work well together.
• Rinse canned foods which are soaked in saltwater such as tuna, beans and vegetables.
• Make it yourself! It’s much harder to go overboard on the salt when you are making something from scratch.
Learn How To Read Food Labels
• Know what to look for when you are buying pre-made foods (I've got a blog post on this).
• Less than 400mg sodium per 100g is good, less than 120mg of sodium per 100g is even better.
• Don’t assume its just savoury foods that contain sodium, you’d be amazed how much sweet products like cereals also contain.
Avoid High-Salt, Processed Foods
• Reduce the number of takeaways you are eating.
• Be aware of foods high in salt such as processed meat), cheese, ready-made soups, ketchup, soy sauce, stock cubes, gravy powder, tinned food containing salt, salted snacks such as crisps, nuts, biscuits, popcorn, ready-meals, takeaway meals, bread.