Is eating too much salt damaging your health?

The Royal Society for Public Health has this month called for government action to reduce salt consumption. But how much salt do you eat – and do you need to cut back?

The NHS recommends adults consume no more than 6g salt (roughly 1 teaspoon) per day, which doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Yet the average salt intake for adults is 8g per day – 33 percent higher – according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

The dangers of eating too much salt are thought to be considerable. It raises blood pressure (a major cause of strokes) and increases the risk of stomach cancer and osteoporosis. The World Health Organisation says managing your salt intake is as important as stopping smoking when it comes to reducing heart disease.

If you’re eating too much salt, what can you do to reduce your intake?

How much salt are you eating?

About 75 percent of the salt we eat is in everyday foods, such as bread, cheese and sauces, according to Action on Salt, so it’s easy to eat too much of it without realising. It’s important to read the nutrition label. Many foods that are high in salt don’t even taste salty, for instance some breakfast cereals, jarred sauces, biscuits and cakes.

The good news is you can take action to reduce your appetite for salt, because the more you eat of it the more you want it. Nutritionist Fiona Hunter says it takes around four weeks to reset your taste for salt.

How to measure the salt in food

Some food labels only provide the sodium content, which is not the same as the salt content.

1g sodium = 2.5g salt, so the 6g adult daily salt guideline is equivalent to 2.4g sodium.

Low-sodium salts contain potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. While the sodium content is less, too much potassium is also a health risk for people with certain kidney and heart conditions.

Sea salt and table salt are both sodium chloride, so the daily amount of 6g applies equally to both. Although, as sea salt has larger grains, a pinch of sea salt probably contains less salt by weight than a pinch of table salt.

Easy ways to cut your salt intake

You can make a big difference to your salt intake with a few simple changes to your diet.

  1. Be wary of high salt levels in sauces and marinades, including soy sauce and fish sauce. Swap your ketchup to a low-salt version.

  2. Check the salt levels on the nutrition label. Foods may be higher in salt than you think; for instance a can of baked beans can easily contain 2.4g salt. Choose reduced-salt options.

  3. Choose takeaways carefully. A takeaway or delivery pizza can contain as much as 5g salt, nearly all of an adult’s daily limit in one meal.

  4. Make your own sauces and soups. Stir-fries, pasta sauces, soups and curries will all taste better and are likely to contain much less salt if you make them from scratch. Cook them in big batches and freeze for a steady supply of quick, healthy meals.

  5. Swap salt for spice, using fresh or dried seasonings such as chilli, garlic, cumin, lemon juice and black pepper.

  6. Choose fresh fish or meat rather than cured, which can be very high in salt.

  7. Cut back on salty crisps and snacks and opt for crunchy vegetables, fruits or low-fat crackers.