We all need a small amount of salt in our diet to aid important functions such as muscle contraction, but this could be as low as 1g a day. The recommended 6g a day of salt is a maximum figure for good health, not a target. The current average adult salt intake in the UK is about 8g; around 7 out of 10 adults eat more than 6g of salt a day. Eating more salt than we need causes the body to store more water, and this extra water raises blood pressure. High blood pressure affects more than a third of adults, and about a third of those people don’t realise they have it as symptoms go unnoticed. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and leave you three times more likely to have heart disease, heart failure or stroke. The good news is that as you reduce your salt intake, high blood pressure is also reduced and the risks associated with it. In fact if you have high blood pressure, you could lower it in just 4 weeks by eating less salt.
What about babies and children? Children’s blood pressure is also raised the more salt they eat. Babies and children need very little salt as their kidneys are still developing and cannot cope with lots of salt. Babies under 6 months get sufficient sodium (component of salt) from breast or formula milk and cannot tolerate any salt added from foods.
Reference salt intakes per day:
7 – 12 months <1g
1 – 3 years 2g
4 – 6 years 3g
7 – 10 years 5g
11 years and over 6g.
So what is salt? Salt is sodium chloride, the sodium damages your health if you eat too much. This includes sodium in cooking salt, sea salt, rock salt and Himalayan mountain salt whether in granules, flakes or crystal form.
How to reduce salt? About ¾ of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, check food labels and look for products with 0.3g salt per 100g or less, and cut down on foods high in salt (over 1.8g salt per portion or 1.5g per 100g). Avoid foods labelled ‘in brine’ or ‘salted’. Keep portions of cheese, bacon, ham, sausage and smoked fish to a minimum. Try and switch to more home cooking and use lemon or lime juice, pepper, vinegar, tomato puree, herbs and spices, garlic and onion. Take care when using salty ingredients like soy sauce, stock cubes, seasoning mixes and sauces. Using less water and steaming or microwaving can help preserve the flavour of vegetables and rice. And remember that your taste buds change, after a few weeks of eating less salt your taste buds will become more sensitive and you will enjoy meals more with less salt.