World Salt Awareness Week, 9 – 15 March

Written by our Accredited Practising Dietitian, Jodie

What is salt?

Salt is a chemical compound made of sodium and chloride that our bodies need to maintain fluid balance and blood volume.  However, the majority of Australians consume more salt than the recommended amount and this can have a negative effect on our health.  World Salt Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the hidden salt in our every day foods.

So how much do we need?

Adults only need 1-2 grams of salt (460 – 920 mg sodium) a day to maintain normal function.  That’s less than half a teaspoon.  The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends a maximum daily intake for adults of 5 grams of salt (2,000 mg sodium), however a recent Australian Health Survey Data found that 76% of males and 42% of females over the age of 2 years are exceeding this upper limit.

What if we eat too much salt?

Having a salt intake above 5 grams a day is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).  The long-term consequences of high blood pressure include kidney disease, heart disease, stroke and stomach cancer.  Evidence shows that reducing your intake of sodium can help to reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk of developing additional health complications.

A diet high in salt can also increase your risk of osteoporosis and risk of fractures because a high-salt diet increases the amount of calcium excreted in your urine – and we need calcium to maintain healthy bones.

High-salt foods

Foods known to be high in salt include any processed or packaged foods like potato chips, pretzels, tortilla chips and take-away foods.  However, few people realise that many common foods are surprisingly high in salt, including:

  • Bread
  • Most cheeses
  • Some cereals
  • Canned soups and soup powders
  • Canned vegetables
  • Sauces and other condiments
  • Stock and stock powders (non salt reduced options)
  • Baked beans (non salt reduced options)
  • Deli meats including ham, salami, prosciutto
  • Processed meats including sausages and bacon
  • Canned meats, including chicken, some salmon and tuna
  • Convenience (frozen) meals
  • Pre-made vegetable juices
  • Salad dressing

What to look for on products

Because of consumer interest, food manufacturing companies are becoming increasingly conscious of what goes into their products and often try to disguise the salt.  To make sure you know what you are eating, it’s a good idea to read the ingredients list and Nutrition Information Panel to check for the salt content.  But it may not always be obvious, as salt can also be listed as: 

  • Glutamate
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Mineral salts
  • Rock salt
  • Sea salt
  • Garlic salt
  • Celery salt
  • Sodium
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Baking powder; and
  • Stock

How to reduce your salt

One of the most effective ways to reduce your salt intake is to avoid adding it to your meal or cooking.  You can also reduce your salt intake by:

  • Choosing ‘salt-reduced’ options where possible (stock, soups, peanut butter, vegemite, baked beans, sauces etc)
  • Making your own salad dressings with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Making veggie juices at home
  • Choosing frozen vegetables instead of canned
  • Limiting your intake of deli and processed meats

Helpful supermarket tips

So when you are shopping, be aware of how much salt is in the products you buy by checking the ingredients list and Nutrition Information Panel for salt content.  Sodium/salt information sodium (salt) will be displayed per serve and per 100 grams.  Aim for 120 mg or less per 100 grams.  Limit foods with more than 400 mg per 100 grams.

For more information, read the following story on Healthy Shopping Helpers.

 

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