Salt. It's an important mineral to include in our diet, but it's also really easy to have too much. Events such as 'Salt Awareness Week' which happen every year, aim to highlight the possible adverse affects it can have on our health. But how do you know how much salt you're consuming?
We need some salt in our diets to survive as it plays an important role in fluid regulation. Insufficient salt in the blood can lead to hyponatremia, a potentially life threatening condition, however this is rarely caused by too little salt in our diet as we only need a small amount. More commonly we are consuming far too much, which has various other detrimental affects on our health.
Having high levels of salt in our diet can lead to increased blood pressure, which in turn may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or strokes. This is because excess salt can cause blood to thicken, which can put pressure on our arteries. People who are overweight are at an increased risk of high blood pressure anyway, so having an excess salt intake is a big no no.
Salt itself doesn't contain any calories, so it doesn't directly lead to increased fat stores and weight gain. However there are a couple of reasons why salt can impact on our weight:
We should be eating no more than 6g of salt per day – which is 2.4g of sodium. But the average daily intake of salt in the UK currently is estimated at 8.1g per day – much more than the maximum recommendation for health. The good news is that this has come down in recent years as people have become more aware of the risks of consuming too much (and food manufacturers have been reducing the salt content of many foods) - so we're heading in the right direction. However we still have a way to go to reach that magic 6g!
The Nutracheck App tracks salt - you can switch the second column in your diary to show salt. This is a really easy way to see how your individual foods choices contribute to your total salt intake over the day. Check how you are tracking against the 6g / day target by tapping on the white icon above the green button in your diary.
You may think that not adding salt to your food or limiting your intake of products like pizza, cheese, chips and canned goods is enough to ensure your salt intake is healthy. In many ways, yes, this is a great step as these are common high salt foods. But the truth is that salt is present in many foods and it is important to be aware of possible hidden amounts if you need to reduce your salt intake for health reasons.
I've listed below some of the most common salt-containing foods, and maybe some of the lesser known ones:
*There are versions of these foods which have been developed in recent years to contain less salt, so where possible opt for the reduced salt version.
You might not think that a particular food would contain much salt, but salt can often be in the most unlikely products. Always check food labels and opt for a reduced salt version if you can.
Tip! If you find adding salt to your food a hard habit to break, try swapping to a healthier alternative like LoSalt. It contains 68% less sodium and claims to not compromise on taste! Available in most major supermarkets.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.