Reducing salt in our diet

Reducing salt in our diet

To reduce the amount of salt in your diet, slowly reduce your intake (over several weeks), then completely avoid adding salt at the table, and when cooking or preparing meals.

Salt is a chemical compound (electrolyte) made up of sodium and chloride. It is commonly used to preserve and flavour foods, and is the main source of sodium in our diet. A small amount of salt is important for good health as it helps to maintain the correct volume of circulating blood and tissue fluids in the body. However, most people consume much more sodium than they need for good health.

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  • using dry or fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, thyme, dill, basil or a dry herb mix to add flavour
  • using spices and other flavour enhancers like garlic and chili
  • lemon or lime juices are excellent flavour enhancers and often make meats more tender.

Experiment with small amounts and use a recipe book to get ideas on what flavours go well together. For example, curry powder enhances the flavour of potatoes or eggs and vegetables go nicely with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

If you currently use quite a lot of salt in cooking or at the table, reducing this is even more important. For the average person, this accounts for around 25 per cent of their total salt intake and is one easy action you can take to reduce your sodium intake. Your taste buds adapt to lower salt levels in a matter of weeks, so gradually reducing salt is a key factors to success.

While reducing the salt you add at the table in when cooking or preparing meals, you should also focus on selecting foods that contain less ‘hidden’ salt because this accounts for around 75% of all salt in most peoples diet. When shopping:

  • Choose reduced salt bread and breakfast cereals – bread is a major source of sodium in the diet.
  • Buy fresh vegetables or select lower sodium canned varieties.
  • Choose products with low salt (less than 120 mg sodium/100 g) or ‘salt-free’ versions of commonly used foods such as baked beans, margarine, commercial sauces, preprepared meals and other foods.

Some people believe that sea salt is a healthier alternative to normal table salt, but both are composed of sodium chloride.

Avoid high-salt, processed foods

High-salt foods that should be eaten sparingly include:

  • most ‘fast’ foods, such as pizza, hamburgers, chips
  • most snack foods, such as potato chips
  • processed meats, such as sausages, salami, hot dogs and luncheon meats
  • dehydrated or packet foods, such as instant pasta or soups
  • pre-packaged sauces and condiments, such as tomato sauce and soy sauce, and processed tomato products in general.

Reducing the amount of salt you have will lower high blood pressure – the extent depends on your age, current blood pressure and other factors such as the amount of exercise you do, body weight, stress and alcohol intake. People with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease and those who are older or overweight are particularly susceptible to the effect of too much sodium on blood pressure.

There is strong evidence that sodium reduction lowers blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure and good evidence that consuming a diet low in sodium reduces blood pressure in children.