We all know that too much sugar in our diet is bad for our health. But did you know that too much salt is also bad for you? Most of us don’t keep track of how much we consume, meaning you may be eating too much salt without even realising it.
What happens if you eat too much salt?
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride and it’s the sodium component that at high doses can be bad for health.
While sodium is an essential nutrient for strong muscles, proper nerve function and balancing hydration in the body – we only need so much of it a day.
Eating too much salt is the single biggest cause of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The sodium in salt leads to more water in your blood vessels, causing higher pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be.
High blood pressure can cause a vast amount of health problems including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and some types of dementia.
Research has actually shown that a higher intake of sodium is associated with a 23 per cent increase in the risk of stroke and a 14 per cent increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
How much is too much?
Adults and children aged 11 and older should be eating no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g / 2,400mg sodium) – that’s around 1 teaspoon. Children aged 11 or younger should eat less, according to their age.
With an average of 85 per cent of the salt we eat already being in the food we buy, rather than being added during cooking or eating, it’s worryingly easy to consume more than the recommended amounts.
Is there such a thing as too little sodium?
A low salt intake can also cause serious implications. Some of these implications include depression, weakness, nausea, vomiting, cramps, headache, irritability and confusion.
However, its unlikely that you’re not getting enough sodium. The body needs only a small amount (less than 500 milligrams per day) to function properly. That’s less than ¼ teaspoon. Very few people come close to eating less than that amount.
Tips for reducing your salt intake
Cutting down on salt is one of the simplest ways to lower your blood pressure, and will start to make a difference very quickly, even within weeks.
There are easy steps you can take to reduce the amount of sodium you eat, both by buying foods with less added salt and by reducing the amount you add yourself.
1. Prioritise whole, fresh and unprocessed foods
The best way to limit your sodium intake is to limit unprocessed foods as much as you can. Opt for whole fruits and vegetables and prepare meals from scratch as much as possible.
2. Approach salty foods with caution
Next time you’re in the supermarket, beware of these commonly salty foods:
- Frozen/ready meals
- Tinned and packaged soups
- Cured meats and ham
- Pizza and pasta sauces
- Snack foods, including crisps
- Soy sauce
- Stock cubes
- Salad dressings
- Certain condiments, including hot sauce
3. Check the label
Checking food labels allows you to compare brands, varieties and flavours of products and choose those that are lower in salt.
Colour-coded labelling makes it easy to see at a glance if a product is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in certain nutrients, including salt. You should try to limit the number of amber and red products that you eat.
If colour coding isn’t on the packet, use the key below to work out whether the item has a low, medium or high content…
- Less than 0.3g per 100g – Low
- Between 0.3g and 1.5g per 100g – Medium
- More than 1.5g per 100g – High
If the label only gives sodium, you can work out the amount of salt in it by multiplying the total sodium by 2.5. For example, 1g of sodium per 100g is 2.5g of salt per 100g.
4. Take salt off the table
Many people add salt to their food as a habit. Yes, salt enhances the flavour of food, but it’s not the only option. Experiment with flavouring your food in a different way, such as by adding lemon or lime juice, fresh or dried herbs and spices, and vinegars.
5. Avoid takeaways
Fast food and convenience meals typically have a huge amount of salt added to them. For example, a pizza can contain six grams – meaning you consume a full day’s allowance in one meal.
Restaurant meals are also notoriously laden with salt. If you are eating out, pt for grilled proteins rather than fried, choose veggies or salad as your side dish and ask for your sauce or dressing on the side.
6. Track your sodium intake
Adding up the amount of salt in the products you eat throughout the day will give you an idea of how much salt you are eating.
You can do this either by reading the labels or using an App such as MyFitnessPal. The app sets your sodium limit at 2,300 milligrams per day (just under the 6g salt recommendation). This approach helps you keep track of the sodium intake per meal and make sure you stick within the daily limit.
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