Salt Awareness Week is the 4th-10th March making there no better time to discuss salt! Why do we need salt, why are we consuming too much, what are the dangers of this, and how can we go about reducing our intake? Huge thanks to Hannah Collins AfN for this guest post.
What is salt, how much do we need & why?
Salt is another name for sodium and you may see either term used on food packaging. We need a certain amount of salt in our diet to regulate the amount of water in our bodies – when this water balance is disrupted by too much salt it can have negative consequences on our bodies. It is recommended that we consume maximum daily salt intakes of:
- 6g for adults and children aged 11+ years which is about 1 teaspoon (2.4g sodium)
- 5g for children aged 7-10 years (2g sodium)
- 3g for children aged 4-6 years (1.2g sodium)
- 2g for children aged 1-3 years (0.8g sodium)
We need to be careful when reading food packaging to check whether the salt is labelled as salt or sodium to avoid confusion. It is very hard in a western diet to consume insufficient salt for our needs.
How much are we actually consuming?
The average adult in the UK consumes about 8g of salt per day. This is much reduced vs 10 years ago but this 8g is still about one third more than we need.
Why does too much salt cause us problems?
- High Blood Pressure
Consuming more than 6g of salt per day can cause many health problems, the greatest of which is high blood pressure, also known as ‘hypertension’. When we eat too much salt, this salt holds on to water in our bodies and disrupts the all-important water balance I mentioned earlier. As blood is mainly water, this extra water in our blood puts greater pressure on our blood vessels to open up and let the blood through – resulting in high blood pressure!
High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease – it puts extra strain on your heart to pump your blood around the body and may result in a heart attack or stroke if the pressure is very high.
The government states that if we were to reduce our salt intake to the recommended 6g per day, there could be up to 20,000 fewer deaths from heart attack and stroke each year!
Salt reduction combined with a diet:
- High in fruit & veg, wholegrains, low fat dairy and pulses
- With small daily amounts of lean poultry & fish
has been proven to be the best way to reduce high blood pressure. This diet is known as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
- Kidney Problems
If salt holds on to water in your body, the kidneys do the opposite job – they have to try and get rid of this excess water to keep a nice water balance for us.
More salt in the blood means the kidneys have to work a lot harder to try and remove the water, as the water likes to stay with the salt! Over time this can put a lot of strain on our kidneys and can lead to kidney failure where the kidneys slowly stop working properly.
Once kidney failure is established it cannot be reversed and patients must consume even less salt at this stage to avoid total failure or dialysis.
Too much salt can also make us dehydrated and affect our day to day performance. It can also cause painful kidney stones and stomach ulcers.
Tips to consume less salt
Most of us won’t have the time or the inclination to calculate how much salt we are eating every day! To keep it simple:
- Don’t add salt to food when cooking; replace with herbs & spices (dry or fresh), lemon, lime or garlic
- 75% of the salt we eat comes from ready meals/soups/sauces/breads – i.e. processed foods. Quickly scan the packaging of processed foods when buying and opt for foods that have the ‘green’ traffic light for salt. Foods that carry the red light should be consumed sparingly.
- For foods that have no traffic lights, you can use the FoodSwitch app which is free to download. By scanning the barcode it will tell you if the food is high or low in salt!
- For those who do have more time, be careful when reading food labels and check the amount of salt ‘per serving’ not per 100g as some may be displayed
- Don’t be fooled by ‘special’ salts which claim to be better for us such as Himalayan salt – salt is salt!
Guest post by Hannah Collins AfN: