Salt Awareness Week this year runs from 10-16 March. Birmingham City University’s Mel Wakeman discusses some important facts.

1.       What is the maximum amount of salt we should consume per day?

Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (about 1 teaspoon). The current average intake however is just over 8g, primarily a result of the amount of hidden salt we eat in processed, convenience foods. Babies and children under 11 should have less salt than adults.

The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:

1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day

4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day

7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day

11 years and over – 6g salt a day

2.       Where in the diet is most salt found?

75% of the salt we eat is hidden in everyday foods such as bread, cereals and ready meals. Even if you do not cook with salt or add it to food at the table, you can still exceed the 6g limit.

3.       Salt or Sodium? Does it matter?

Many food labels state the salt or sodium content – these are NOT the same. 1g of sodium is equivalent to 2.5g salt. We can easily become confused and underestimate the salt content of food if only information about sodium is provided. The general public are sometimes expected to do the math in their head whilst shopping. For example, if tomato soup contains 0.3 Sodium / 100g, then half a tin (200g) actually contains 1.5g salt. The good news however, is that by December 2014 all food labels will only list salt; sodium will not be listed

4.       What are considered high salt foods?

A food high in salt has more than 1.5g salt per 100g.

High salt foods are often processed. Examples include meats such as bacon, sausages, smoked ham or fish and salami. Snacks such as crisps, pretzels, salted & dry roasted nuts, popcorn, olives and pickles. Condiments such as soy sauce, stock cubes or gravy mixes, tomato ketchup and mayonnaise are very high in salt. Other foods include cheese, marmite, pizza, ready meals and bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta.

Low salt foods contain 0.3g salt or less per 100g.

We should be looking to consume more low salt products on an everyday basis and having high salt foods only occasionally.

5.       How can too much salt affect your health?

Excessive salt intake can raise high blood pressure and can have serious effects on the heart. If you have high blood pressure, you are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

The World Health Organisation last year stated we should be consuming less than 5g salt /day to limit the harm caused to health by excess of salt. In response to this, the Government launched a salt reduction strategy that aims to help people cut their daily salt intake. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has since suggested reducing the adult maximum intake to 3g/day by 2025.

Further recommendations include ensuring food producers take responsibility by reformulating their recipes and improve their manufacturing and production methods to reduce the salt content of commonly consumed foods as well as increasing the availability of lower salt options.

Worst offenders

  1. Wetherspoon’s 10oz gammon with eggs, chips, peas, tomato & flat mushroom: 8.9g
  2. Pizza Hut regular BBQ meat feast pizza: 6.36g
  3. Pret A Manger Classic Tomato Soup:  4.5g salt per pot
  4. Sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice 7.6g
  5. Tomato ketchup: 0.4g per 15ml serving
  6. Tesco Beef Lasagne: 2.5g salt per pack
  7. Dry roasted  peanuts: 1g salt per 50g serving
  8. McDonald’s kids cheese burger happy meal  1.9g
  9. Kellogg’s cornflakes: 0.7g salt per 30g serving with 125ml semi skimmed milk
  10. Warburton’s toastie: 1g salt per 2 slices of bread
  11. Morrison’s butter: 0.3g salt per 10g serving

6.       How can I reduce my salt intake?

  • Don’t add salt to your food without thinking about it first. Many people sprinkle on salt automatically, but it’s often unnecessary. You can make you food just as tasty, you just might need to get used to other flavours.
  • Use more dried or fresh herbs and spices in your cooking to add flavour.
  • Try roasting and baking vegetables instead of boiling them to bring out their natural flavours.
  • Choose reduced salt soy sauce, gravy and soups when available – little changes will help.
  • Buy tinned vegetables and beans with ‘no added salt’ on the label (look for the green traffic light food labels).
  • Go easy on the sauces – ketchup, mustard and relishes are often very high in salt (avoid the red traffic light food labels).
  • Snack on unsalted nuts, fruits and vegetables rather than salty savoury snacks or choose lower salt varieties of crackers.
  • If you need to add salt to your food, use a low sodium salt such as ‘lo-salt’.  These salts use potassium instead of sodium and contain nearly 2/3 less sodium than standard salt.

Reducing salt intake by just a pinch (1g) – would save 4,147 preventable deaths and £288m to the NHS every year.

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Mel Wakeman

I am a self confessed foody, a mum, a wife and a senior lecturer in nutrition. I want to know what exactly we are putting into our bodies when we eat and try to ensure our family eats a balanced diet. Don't get me wrong I am not a preacher of 'you must eat this and you can't eat that'. I am the first one to go grab that slice of cake and I believe you can't truly enjoy a cuppa without a good dunking biscuit. I just want to feel healthy so with the cynical voice on my shoulder and my science head on, I try to unpick all the latest news about what we should and should not be eating.

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