Salt is a naturally occurring chemical made up of sodium and chloride (NaCl). It is the sodium content of salt which is harmful to our health. Salt is an electrolyte which is needed by the body to maintain fluid balance, help with muscle contraction and the maintain the acidity of your blood.
Why is salt so bad?
A lot of us are aware that having a diet high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to cardiovascular disease (heart disease). This doesn’t mean that if we have normal blood pressure we can ignore the salt content of our diet, however. Research has shown that having a diet high in salt in early life can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) in later life, and research from Otago University has also shown that a high salt diet is implicated in the hardening of the arteries. In addition to its effects on the heart, there is also evidence showing a link between high-salt diets and gastric cancer, osteoporosis, cataracts, kidney stones and diabetes. A diet high in salt may also encourage growth of the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers, and may be linked with exercise-induced asthma. According to the World Health Organisation, high blood pressure is a greater risk factor for heart disease than smoking or being overweight or obese.
What are recommendations for salt intake?
The National Heart Foundation recommendation for sodium consumption is 0.5-2.3 grams per day, which equals about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. On average we eat roughly twice the recommended amount each day. 75-85% of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods, so even limiting the salt used in cooking and available at the dinner table you may still be consuming a diet high in salt. Bread and processed meats are the biggest contributors of salt to our diets.
How do I reduce salt in my diet?
■Choose breakfast cereals with less than 600mg per 100g (or 400mg per serve if you suffer hypertension).
■Choose bread with less than 400mg per 100g.
■ Marmite and vegemite are high in sodium, so alternate with spreads such as unsalted (sugar free) peanut butter.
■Choose bagel or pita crisps, raw vegetable crudités, or unsalted nuts in place of chips, cheese and crackers.
■Choose homemade soup, or soups with less than 800mg sodium per serve over canned or instant soups
■Choose plain pasta or noodles with homemade stir-fry sauce in place of flavoured packet noodles or pasta.
Is there such a thing as ‘healthy’ salt?
The marketers of some salt products claim their products are good for us. There is no evidence that this is the case however. In the case of Himalayan salt, it contains the same sodium content as any other salt available. Flaky salt, and sea salt are often used by restaurant and TV chefs, but their composition doesn’t differ too much from regular table salt. They are cut differently so have different shapes and textures, giving them a different flavour. Some types of flaky salt or rock salt don’t contain iodine which is added to table salt. Iodine is also something we need in our diet so it is worth choosing a salt that is ‘iodised’.
How does salt intake impact weight-loss?
Salt does not contain any kilojoules so doesn’t directly affect weight-loss. A high consumption of salt can result in temporary weight gain though as it impacts how much fluid your body retains, disguising any loss of fat. When losing weight, it pays to consider every aspect of your diet to determine whether it hinders your goals.
If you would like to assess your salt intake, or you’d like some more tips on cutting down, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org