A high-salt diet can increase blood pressure and this is a concern for people with normal and high blood pressure. A high-salt diet is also a risk factor for kidney disease and stomach cancer.
Therefore, most of us need to lower the amount of salt in our diet. By doing so we can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and death from heart disease.
Four easy steps to cut down on salt
Reducing the amount of salt in our diet does not mean we need to miss out on flavour.
1) Be a salt-sleuth
Look at the sodium content on the nutrition information panel; most food companies and supermarkets publish product nutrition information panels on their websites. Buy ‘no added salt’, ‘low salt’ and ‘salt reduced’ alternatives, particularly for canned and packet foods, and everyday items like margarine, bread and breakfast cereals.
Understanding the meanings of salt-related words can still be confusing, so here are a few tips.
- The specific sodium content of foods and drinks is listed on the nutrition information panel.
- ‘No added salt’ means no salt has been added to the food. These products are generally excellent choices. The food may still contain some sodium found naturally in the food, and if so you will see the amount in the ‘per 100g’ column and ‘per serve’ column on the nutrition information panel.
- ‘Low salt’ products contain 120mg per 100g or less and are excellent choices.
- ‘Reduced salt’ means the product is at least 25% lower in sodium than the regular variety.
- Foods and drinks with 500mg sodium per 100g or more are high in salt so try to choose a lower salt variety or limit how often and how much you have of these products.
- Salt will be listed on the ingredient list if the product contains salt. Also watch out for food additives that contain sodium, like MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG may appear in the ingredient list by its food additive number - 621.
2) Cut back on highly salted foods and condiments
While we may be buying and relying on more packaged and shelf-stable foods at the moment, these products are often higher in salt. Limit how much you eat of:
- potato chips/crisps and snack foods
- savoury snack biscuits and salted nuts
- tomato sauce, mayonnaise, commercial sauces and salad dressings
- canned or packet soups, packet seasonings (for example two-minute noodles), stock cubes, stock powder, soup cubes, gravy powder, (other than those labelled ‘no added salt’, ‘low salt’ or ‘salt reduced’)
- soy sauce, fish sauce, other Asian sauces, condiments and foods
- fish canned in brine and smoked fish
- processed meats like ham, bacon, luncheon meats (for example fritz), smoked meats, sausages, frankfurts and hot dogs
- pickles and olives
- high salt take-away foods (for example pizza, burgers, BBQ chicken, pies, sausage rolls)
- tomato juice and vegetable juice.
3) Avoid adding salt to cooking or meals – add aromatic flavours instead
Plenty of salt is found naturally in food or added to processed foods, so we certainly don’t need to add salt to cooking or meals.
A fondness for salty foods is something we learn over time, so if you are used to adding salt to cooking or on meals, while you may miss it at first, your tastebuds will adapt to the taste of less salt after a while.
To avoid adding salt, instead try flavouring foods with:
- vinegars and fruit juices such as lemon, lime and pineapple juice
- curry spices such as cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, chilli
- aromatic (fragrant) flavourings such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, garlic, onion, chives, spring onion (for example mix together and rub on meat, fish, and chicken)
- horseradish, cooked table wine and sherry (adding alcohol while cooking removes the alcohol content but adds flavour to the dish)
- ‘no added salt’, ‘low salt’ or ‘reduced salt’ varieties of stock powders and stock cubes.
Avoid using meat tenderiser – just one teaspoon contains 1600mg of sodium, that’s almost as much as one teaspoon of salt, which contains 2000mg of sodium.
4) Eat fresh foods and follow the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
Try to use mainly fresh ingredients by following the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Basing your daily meals around vegetables and fruit, wholegrain breads and cereals, plus lean meat, chicken, fish, legumes and low-fat dairy foods, and minimising ‘extra’ foods (especially savoury foods high in salt) will help to keep your daily salt intake down.
Frequently asked questions
Salt or sodium – what’s the difference?
The table salt and cooking salt we generally have in our kitchens is made up of sodium chloride. The sodium part can increase blood pressure and be bad for our health.
How much salt do I need?
Our bodies actually require very little salt to function normally. An acceptable amount of sodium for healthy adults in Australia is 460 to 920mg per day, with the upper limit being 2,300mg of sodium per day – equivalent to six grams of salt or about one and a half teaspoons.
The average Australian gets around 9 grams of salt per day, that’s much more salt than the recommended upper limit (6 grams per day).
For older, overweight adults with high blood pressure and for those wanting to maintain low blood pressure for life, no more than 1,600mg sodium per day is recommended.
Are some types of salt better than others?
Salt comes in different forms such as sea salt, rock salt, cooking salt, salt flakes, pink salt, chicken salt, onion salt, celery salt, and garlic salt.
But regardless of the type of salt, they are all very high in sodium so we need to take each of them into account in order to lower our salt (sodium) intake.
What about ‘lite salt’?
‘Lite salt’ is made up of 50% sodium chloride and 50% potassium chloride – so even though it contains half the sodium of normal salt we still need to use it sparingly.
Lite salt can be useful for those who want to wean themselves off salt gradually.
Potassium is a positive nutrient for most people. For example, increasing our intake of dietary potassium can lower blood pressure. Foods naturally rich in potassium include:
- vegetables and fruit
- dried peas such as chickpeas
- beans including kidney beans and baked beans (especially reduced salt varieties if buying them canned).
If you have heart or kidney problems check with your GP first before using lite salt, as your body may retain potassium.