Think you don’t eat a lot of salt? Think again! We show you where those fine, white crystals are hiding, and how to cut back.
How much is too much?
We have a real fondness for the white stuff. Most Aussies are eating almost three times the adequate intake for sodium, and that has serious long-term implications for our health.
We should be aiming to eat less than 1600mg of sodium (1 teaspoon of salt) per day, and no more than 2300mg of sodium (1 1/2 teaspoons of salt) per day.
The problem with pouring on too much salt is that there is a strong, direct relationship between higher sodium intake and higher blood pressure (hypertension), which can be a potential killer if left unchecked.
Eating excess salt is also a significant contributor to stroke, as well as heart and kidney disease. And, to rub salt in the wounds, experts link hypertension to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Why we use salt
Sometimes, only salt will do the trick. It can enhance sweetness, hide bitterness or chemical flavours, and make liquids like soups seem thicker, as well as round out flavours. In short, it makes food ‘taste’ better. No wonder it’s an all-time favourite of chefs — we just need some restraint and use a lighter hand!
Salt also preserves food, such as cured meats (e.g. bacon) and some canned foods. The sodium works by drawing water out of food so that it won’t be spoiled by harmful bacteria that need water to survive and multiply.
Our bodies need salt to help with muscle contractions and to prevent dehydration, but we’re only talking small amounts here. Eating lots of salty foods is not beneficial to long-term health.
Where does salt hide in our food?
In years gone by, we shook salt on our food without a thought. But the tables have turned, with nearly half of us reporting that we never, or rarely, add salt to food after it has been served.
Only 15 per cent of our salt intake comes directly from the salt shaker. A further 10 per cent is naturally found in our food, and the remaining 75 per cent is found in processed foods, including our daily bread.
Common salt culprits include deli-style meats (salami, bacon, ham), Asian-style sauces, stocks, canned soup, bottled sauces and packet seasonings.
Can we curb our taste for salt?
Do you ever find that a meal is too salty, while your dinner companion says it tastes just fine? Some people are naturally more sensitive to a salty taste, but a big part of our preference for saltiness is learned. If you eat higher salt versions of food all the time, lower salt versions will taste bland. Think of too much salt as the taste equivalent of a loud noise, drowning out the soft, subtler flavours in food.
Our ability to taste salt also declines with age. By the time we reach our mid-70s, we have fewer taste buds, which is why older people often find food tastes very bland.
The good news is you can retrain your taste buds. It can take just a few weeks to get used to having less salt, but using other flavourings, such as herbs and spices, may help. At Healthy Food Guide, we choose lower-sodium products and we use only small amounts of salt in our recipes, if at all.
Below you’ll find surprising ways that excess salt can sneak into every meal, even breakfast! You’ll also discover how easy it is to make low-sodium choices when you know what to look for.
What to look for…
Check the nutrition information panel on packaged foods to cut back on salt:
Use the sodium value in the per 100g column to compare products.
Less than 120mg per 100g is ideal, 120–400mg is okay, and over 400mg per 100g is high.
Look for no-added-salt or reduced-salt versions, where possible.
HIGHER IN SODIUM
1/2 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup pretzels
handful (50g) plain potato chips
handful (50g) salted corn chips
2 cups salted popcorn
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
2 cups unsalted popcorn
LOWER IN SODIUM
Your meal-by-meal guide to eating less salt
High salt: 1320mg sodium(57% daily limit)
Baked beans on toast with coffee:
2 slices grainy toast 380mg sodium
1/2 can regular baked beans 850mg sodium
1 small milky coffee 90mg sodium
TIP: Canned beans are high in salt, so buy reduced-salt varieties.
Low salt:411mg sodium (18% daily limit)
Poached egg on toast with yoghurt and fruit:
1 slice grainy toast 190mg sodium
1/4 avocado 2mg sodium
1 poached egg 35mg sodium
cracked black pepper 0mg sodium
1/2 cup mixed berries 2mg sodium
1 cup reduced-fat Greek yoghurt 182mg sodium
TIP: Season eggs with pepper or chilli flakes for salt-free flavour
High salt: 1831mg sodium(80% daily limit)
Ham and salad wrap with yoghurt and fruit:
1 wholemeal wrap 640mg sodium
50g shaved leg ham 790mg sodium
1/4 avocado 2mg sodium
1/4 cup grated edam cheese 277mg sodium
1 cup rocket 15mg sodium
1 tomato 10mg sodium
150g tub flavoured yoghurt 92mg sodium
1 kiwifruit 5mg sodium
TIP: Cheese and deli meats turn high-sodium wraps into a salt trap.
Low salt: 113mg sodium (5% daily limit)
Crunchy couscous and tuna salad:
1/2 cup couscous 3mg sodium
95g can tuna in spring water 78mg sodium
1/2 roasted red capsicum 2mg sodium
1 cup rocket 15mg sodium
1/2 cup steamed broccoli 10mg sodium
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds 5mg sodium
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 0mg sodium
2 teaspoons olive oil 0mg sodium
TIP: Tuna canned in spring water is a low-sodium choice.