Eating Too Much Salt

Almost everyone eats too much salt and this can have grave consequences on out health.  Salt has been shown to raise blood pressure readings increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Q. I worry that I eat too much salt. How do I wean myself off it while still enjoying my food — and making sure I get enough salt for good health?

A. We need only 1.4g of salt a day to keep body fluids balanced, allow nerves and muscles to work properly and to stay in good health. Given that the average Brit eats about 9g a day, a deficiency is the least of your worries.

So how do you cut down to 6g a day, a level that experts say will help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and improve bone and kidney health? The first approach is to go cold turkey, swapping all salty versions of foods for those with much less. For example, having two Shredded Wheat, which contain no salt, in place of a 50g bowl of Special K will save 1g, having a couple of crispbreads (with just a trace of salt) instead of a 22g pack of sour cream and chives rice cakes another 0.6g, and having home cooked lean mince instead of a burger another 1.9g. Within a couple of weeks, your taste buds should be accustomed to low-salt eating.

The easier approach is to wean yourself off more gradually, particularly if you are trying to change your family’s habits too. A good place to start is by understanding where our salt intake comes from. Most, 35 per cent, is from foods such as bread and breakfast cereals. This always surprises me as you would think that things such as crisps were bigger contributors, but we tend to eat breakfast cereals and bread more regularly and in biggish amounts, hence the larger contribution.

The food industry has been lowering salt in bread and breakfast cereals, so cutting back is getting easier. Also, some brands have less than others. Two Oatibix, for example, have 0.2g compared with 0.5g for a 50g bowl of Shreddies.

Generally, bran flakes, high-fibre bran cereals, fruit and fibre, frosted cereals and cereal hoops have a lot more salt than porridge, salt-free muesli, puffed wheat and Shredded Wheat-type cereals.

With bread, opt for loaves with less than 1.1g of salt per 100g (0.4g per slice) and remember that speciality breads, such as ciabatta, olive and sundried tomato, tend to contain the most salt.

Meat products such as bacon, burgers and sausages supply 26 per cent of our salt, 9 per cent comes from products such as ready-made salads, vegetable dishes and chips, and 8 per cent from milk and milk products, such as cheese.

When it comes to meat and fish, plain cuts are virtually salt free while those made into products such as kievs, ready meals and pies or that have been smoked will be high in salt. If you are a cheese- lover, ricotta, Cheshire and Wensleydale are usually lower than Feta, Roquefort, cheese strings and cheese spreads.

The rest of our salt comes from home cooking and the salt we add at the table. Cutting back requires discipline and making the most of spices. Add cinnamon and honey to roast carrots, or a dash of lemon juice and black pepper to steamed vegetables. Use more plants, flowers, herbs and spices, such as ginger, garlic and chilli, in cooking and opt for balsamic vinegar instead of other salad dressings to make your salt-lowering ambitions more palatable.