The truth about salt
If there’s one thing scarier than the amount of sugar (and fat) creeping into our daily diet, it’s the amount of salt we eat every day without even knowing it. While you might use less in your cooking or ditched the salt shaker at the dinner table, the truth is most of the salt we eat is hidden in canned, processed and frozen foods we eat every day.
Junk food like crisps, crackers and biscuits aren’t the only culprits. You might be surprised to know that many everyday foods like bread and breakfast cereals can be some of the worst offenders – tipping us way over our recommended intake of 6g (1 teaspoon) of salt a day.
Why all the fuss, you ask? It’s true. We all need a bit more than a pinch of salt every day for its sodium. But too much can cause high blood pressure, putting increased stress on the heart and increasing the risk of stroke, heart failure and heart attacks – the leading cause of death and disability in the UK.
If that’s not enough to get you checking the labels of every product you throw into your shopping cart, this might. High salt intake has been linked to stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones, water retention and diabetes. Just another reason to watch what you eat.
But it’s not all bad news, people! Here are four simple things you can do to make sure you don’t fall into the hidden salt trap.
Use food labels to track intake
An easy way to keep track of the salt content in everyday foods is to check food labels. But it helps to know what you’re looking for.
First of all, don’t confuse salt with sodium content. As a guide, you should aim to have no more than 2.4g of sodium or 6g of salt a day. Also, most (if not all) labels show salt content as a percentage of your daily recommended intake (RI) which can be helpful in tracking the amount of salt you eat.
But a simple trick is to stick to packaged foods where the sodium content is less than or equal to the calories per serving. Some foods also have colour-coded nutrition guides – green is low, amber is medium and red is high. It goes without saying to ‘go green’.
Clamp down on the salt culprits
To be fair, some of the main salt culprits are in my bad books not because they’re always high in salt, but because we eat lots of them on a daily basis. Added up, it can spell salt overload. I’m talking about things like commercial breads, crumpets, ciabatta and breakfast cereals.
But there are some other foods which are just plain ugly when it comes to salt. It helps to know what they are so you can take them off your daily menu and only eat them occasionally.
They are: anchovies, bacon, cheese, crisps, gravy granules, ham, olives, pasta sauces, pickles, pizza, prawns, ready meals, salami, salted and dry-roasted nuts, sandwiches, salt fish, sausages, smoked meats and fish, soup, soy sauce, stock cubes, tomato ketchup, mayo and other sauces, and yeast extract.
Speak up when eating out
If you’re not sitting down, be prepared to be knocked off your feet by this one. Some fast-food chains have more than four times the daily limit of sodium per serving. Ouch!
You don’t have to be a genius to know that less is more when it comes to fast food. While it should be on your ‘sometimes food’ list anyway, try going for smaller portions instead of super-sizing your meals. Or why not ask for your meal to be cooked with less salt? You might not get away with it in some places, but if you’re dining out in a restaurant, it’s worth asking.
Retrain your taste buds
Instead of buying ready meals packed with salt and other baddies, prepare simple meals at home using fresh veg, wholegrains, lentils, and legumes – enhancing the flavour with a pinch of salt. You and your taste buds might be tempted to reach for the salt grinder at first, but if you stick with it, you won’t notice the difference.
It’s all about recalibrating your sense of taste so you can enjoy foods low in salt as much as foods with salt overload. Eventually, you won’t miss it at all.
If you discover that your favourite foods are packed with salt, don’t despair. Like sugar and fat, just cutting down on them will make a difference to your overall health. But if you really want to do your body a favour, try doing away with processed foods and be your own salt boss by cooking fresh, healthy meals at home and monitoring the salt that goes into what you eat.
Owner and Personal Trainer