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Salt Awareness

Week 20th – 26th March

This week is Salt Awareness Week, aimed at raising awareness of the damaging effect of too much salt, so how bad really is salt for your health? And how much is too much?

As with nearly all foods we need some salt in our diets however in the UK and all over the world people eat far too much salt than what they actually need. Regularly eating a high salt diet puts you at risk of developing high blood pressure, which causes heart attacks, heart failure and strokes.

The chemical name for table salt is sodium chloride and it is the sodium that causes problems with blood pressure. Sodium regulates the fluid in your body however too much causes the body to retain fluid and so increases your blood pressure.

High blood pressure is defined as a reading greater than 140/90 mmHg. There are many risks for developing high blood pressure for example obesity and lack of exercise and there is also strong evidence to suggest that salt intake is related to a rise in blood pressure with age.1. There has been a large number of studies conducted which support the concept that salt intake is a major factor in increasing blood pressure within the population. In fact the strength of this evidence is much greater than that for other lifestyle factors for example weight gain, lack of fruits and vegetables and lack of exercise.

MORE HEALTH RISKS OF A HIGH SALT DIET

IMG_9985There are a number of other health conditions that can be caused by or made worse from eating a high salt diet. As well as high blood pressure, salt has also been linked to:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis (weakening of the bones)
  • Stomach cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Previously guidelines for salt recommended 2.3g a day however in reality this is unfeasible and actually some salt is essential for a healthy diet and it could be harmful to restrict salt to that level. The guidelines have now been changed and the recommended daily limit of salt is 6g a day (about a teaspoon) however this is not just about salt we put on food or add to our cooking. Much of the salt in our diets is hidden for example as much as 75% comes from processed food! Most people think of processed food as ready meals and pre packaged soups and sauces however it also includes every day foods such as breads and cereals. The best way to lower your salt intake from processed food is to check the label to make low salt choices and remember… 6g a day! Currently we are consuming about 8.1g a day, a third more than the maximum recommended daily amount!

SO HOW CAN YOU CUT BACK?

When cutting back on salt don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘fancier’ salts such as pink, black, rock, crystals or flakes, are actually better for you…they are not! They will have exactly the same effect on your blood pressure as bog standard table salt. In fact they actually taste less ‘salty’ so you are likely to add more to your food that you would with refined salt!

Over time we get used to a certain amount of salt in our diets and acquire a certain taste for it, as a result if you cut back large amounts suddenly you may find that food tastes bland. To combat this you can find other ways to flavor your food, which are much better for you! Herbs and spices, back pepper, chilli and lemon are great natural ways to add flavor to your food without the health risks! Use these more at first when cutting down on salt and within three weeks your taste buds will adapt and become less sensitive to salt!

As previously mentioned the major part of your diet that contains salt is processed food so it is important to remember to CHECK THE LABEL! By law all processed foods are required to disclose the amount of salt they contain and this is often indicated by the colour coded system of green (low), amber (medium) and red (high).

Always remember the 6g a day recommendation, it’s only a teaspoon…which is not a lot! Check your processed food and try to avoid adding it to your cooking, use herbs and spices for flavor instead!

 

Resources

1. MacGregor G A. Nutrition and blood pressure. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 1999;9:6-15.

CASH Consensus Action on Salt and Health – http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/index.html

https://www.wddty.com/news/2017/02/safe-salt-levels-are-double-those-of-current-guidelines-say-experts.html

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