You may be surprised, but that bowl of Special K you had this morning had 11 per cent of your recommended amount of salt in it. That's an awful lot before you've even left the house in the morning. Salt in small quantities isn't bad for you, but with the average UK adult consuming a third more than recommended, it's time we looked at not only the health risks associated with high salt consumption, but also how to cut down to the suggested serving.
The risks of eating too much salt
It doesn't matter if it's pink Himalayan or the plain old table variety, salt is salt! The body needs a small amount of sodium chloride (the chemical name for salt) to help control blood pressure and volume, however, too much is associated with the development of high blood pressure, and therefore an increased risk of death from stroke and coronary heart disease. But don't start throwing your salt mill over your shoulder just yet – it might bring you good luck, but only 10 per cent of our intake is added during cooking and at the table, with nearly 75 per cent already added to the prepared food that we buy. So, here are some ways you can cut down to reach the target.
Shop for low-salt foods
Salt occurs naturally in very low quantities in fresh food but is added to prepared food by the industry for a number of reasons, including improving taste, texture and the food's shelf life. To reduce intake, switch to low salt or “no salt added” alternatives of the food that you already buy. This can be done by looking at the nutrition labels on the products you're buying and choosing those that are lowest in salt. A high level is more than 1.5g salt per 100g, low is 0.3g or less per 100g and medium is anywhere in between. Fresh food is best if possible but if you buy prepared food, look at the labels.
Cook with less salt
This may sound obvious, but you will be surprised at how much salt is going into your cooking routine without you realising it. Instead of adding the white stuff, use black pepper as seasoning to give your food that extra kick of flavour without the health risks, while herbs and spices can really bring your dishes to life. If the recipe requires stock, be wary of the store cupboard staples, with 100ml stock from a beef Oxo cube containing almost a gram of salt. As an alternative, make your own stock, or buy a low-salt alternative. Even after you've shunned salt in your food preparation, avoid the cardinal sins that are bottled sauces – a tablespoon of Heinz tomato ketchup contains nearly half a gram (aka 7 per cent of your recommended daily intake).
Be warned when eating out: these foods contain high levels of salt
When you can see the granules of salt on that portion of fast food fries, it's clear that they're going to contain a lot of your recommended daily intake of sodium. However, there are other usual suspects that will see your salt consumption skyrocketing. Anything with added pepperoni, bacon, sausage, ham or cheese (all the good stuff!) will be higher in salt than alternatives such as chicken or vegetables. When having a salad, ask for the dressing or sauces on the side so you can control the amount you drizzle on top, and if having rice, plain is better than pilau or egg fried. We aren't suggesting you shouldn't treat yourself once in a while, but being aware of the salt content in the food you're eating and combining healthy choices with an active lifestyle will help to lower your chances of high blood pressure.