Our bodies need a little bit of salt to survive, but the amount we eat is far more than we require. Evidence has shown that regularly eating too much salt puts us at increased risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the main cause of strokes and a major cause of heart attacks and heart failures, the most common causes of death and illness in the world.
What is salt?
By salt, we mean table salt, which is otherwise known as sodium chloride. It is the biggest source of sodium in our diets and it’s this sodium that’s the problem in relation to blood pressure. While we do need some sodium in our diet to help regulate fluid in the body, it’s unusual for us not to get enough – and only too common for us to have too much.
How much should we be eating?
The Government recommends that we eat no more than 6g of salt a day, which is about a teaspoon. Currently, we are consuming 8.1g a day, which is about a third more than the maximum recommendation, so we still have some way to go.
Why are we eating more than the recommended amount?
Many people unfortunately don't realise they are eating too much salt. That is because about 75% of the salt in our diet comes from process foods.It’s not just in ready meals, soups and sauces, though – keep an eye on everyday foods such as breads and cereals, as well as sweet foods harbouring a salty surprise. Foods don't necessarily have to taste salty to be salty. This is one of the reasons it can be tricky to reduce our salt intake, as it is often already in the foods we buy, and we can't take it out. Read food labels to make sure that you are making low-salt choices, or use our free health app FoodSwitch, which tells you which foods are less salty!
How can I cut back?
We acquire a taste for salt and, over time, get used to a certain amount in our diets. If you cut back drastically and suddenly, you may at first find that your food tastes bland. However, flavour doesn’t only come from salt. Fresh and dried herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli and lemon are all great ways to add flavour. So while you reduce the amount of salt you eat, substitute it with these other flavour enhancers and you won’t notice the loss as much. It only takes 3 weeks for our taste buds to adapt and become more sensitive to salt, so you get the same flavour impact from less salt.
Are other types of salt better for me?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that fancier types of salt are better for you. Whether it’s pink, black, rock, crystal or flakes, they still have the same effect on your blood pressure as standard table salt. Although less refined salts might contain more nutrients than everyday table salt, these will probably only be in very small amounts and can probably be sourced from other foods in your diet. Bigger crystals also taste less salty, so you are likely to add more than refined salt.
It’s the sodium that we really need to watch out for; we should also monitor ingredients such as fish and soy sauce and raising agents such as baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
Information courtesy of the British Heart Foundation Heart Matters Magazine. Visit Heart Matters online for tips on keeping healthy, real life stories, and the latest research