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Ready salted: Hidden sources of salt in our diet

Rock salt in a wooden bowl next to a green leaf
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During the past year owing to lockdowns and social distancing, we have all been spending more time in the kitchen, like it or not. Without the option of dining in restaurants and cafes it has been a great chance to try out new recipes, eat healthily and get creative when cooking at home.

However, we need to be aware of how much salt we’re cooking with and how too much salt could potentially affect us.

Is salt bad for you?

Our bodies need a small amount of salt to survive but the food we eat contains more than we naturally need. We need to limit the amount of salt we eat because it contains sodium. Eating too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

How much salt should you have?

According to the NHS adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium which is roughly around one teaspoon.

Children aged:

  • Babies under 1 should have less than 1g of salt a day
  • 1-3 years should eat no more than 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
  • 4 -6 years should eat no more than 3g of salt a day (1.2g sodium)
  • 7 to 10 years should eat no more than 5g of salt a day (2g sodium)
  • 11 years and over should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium)

Foods with surprisingly high salt content

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking nutrition labels when food shopping for the salt content in everyday foods. Some food with a high salt content won’t come as a surprise, for example bacon, ham, olives, gravy granules etc. The best thing to do with these types of high-salt foods is to eat them less often and in small amounts.

But some foods which contain high salt you may not be aware of. Types of breads like crumpets and bagels, pasta sauces, pizzas, breakfast cereals, soups, cheeses and sausages can all contain high levels of salt. By reading the labels and making choices between different brands you can find lower salt alternatives without missing out on your favourite things.

Most food labels will use red, amber and green coding too, to help us understand what the food contains and to help us make healthier choices; swapping out a red coded high salt product for a green coded lower salt product is an easy switch to make.

You can also use the NHS food scanner app to scan food labels while you’re shopping to find out what’s inside the products you buy.

NHS Food Scanner

Swaps you can make

There are easy swaps you can make day to day that could have an impact on your salt intake. For example, why not switch those midday snacks of salty crisps to an apple and rice cakes? Swap ham and cheese sandwiches for beef sandwiches and swap ready-made tinned soup for a homemade variety. 

When adding flavour to home cooking with ingredients like soy sauce and mustard, you can either use less or switch to a low salt variety. And, don’t forget the spice rack! Herbs and spices are a great way to infuse flavour into your food without adding salt. You could replace salt in recipes with chilli, citrus, fresh herbs, garlic or even black pepper.

Also, when cooking, remember to taste your food first before adding salt. Most of us add salt as a habit when actually our meals will be just as tasty without it.

Have fun when cooking and remember as you reduce your salt intake it only takes 3 weeks for our taste buds to adapt and you’ll get the same flavour impact from less salt.

For more advice about staying well, maintaining a healthy weight, and healthy weight loss ask in store at your local LloydsPharmacy about our Medicated Weight Loss Service.

Weight loss service