Salt Intake in the UK

November 12, 2012

Salt Intake in the UK

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n the UK the medical profession has identified that generally the population is eating too much salt. Too much salt in your diet increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes. It can also raise your blood pressure, which around one third of adults in the UK already have. Although high blood pressure frequently has no symptoms it does mean that you are more at risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.

But how did it happen that we are consuming too much salt? Well many of the processed foods we now buy have high amounts of salt. They are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made. Another issue is that some foods have salt although not in such high levels but we are eating too much of that food. Bread and breakfast cereals are good examples of these foods. Additionally the foodstuffs which are now available to buy, containing high amounts of salt, were not commonplace years ago.

A little known fact is that you can be eating too much salt and you don’t even add salt to your food. A report stated that 75% of the salt intake of an average person in the UK is already in common foods such as ready meals, bread and breakfast cereals.

Foods that contain salt

Previously shoppers would buy foodstuffs with no awareness of what items were high in salt. Nowadays all manufacturers show the salt levels on the packaging. They use different systems, it’s either as numbers of grams, percentage of the item or as traffic lights where red means high, amber is medium and green is low. Sometimes when stating the amounts of grams they will say salt, other times they will say sodium. Salt is also known as sodium chloride. To calculate the salt content if the manufacturer gives a sodium value is quite simple. Just multiply the sodium value by 2.5.

The Government defined standards on nutrition labels on food packaging for salt is:

  • High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)

  • Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

High salt foods

The list below is a standard list which can be found in many websites highlighting foods that are almost always high in salt. If you are trying to cut down your salt intake than eat less of them and eat them less frequently.

  • anchovies

  • bacon

  • cheese

  • gravy granules

  • ham

  • olives

  • pickles

  • prawns

  • salami

  • salted and dry roasted nuts

  • salt fish

  • smoked meat and fish

  • soy sauce

  • stock cubes

  • yeast extract

Foods that can be high in salt

The salt content can vary widely between the same products but made by different suppliers. It does mean more work for you, but by comparing labels it means that you can lower your salt consumption. Nutrition labels are designed to help you do this.

These foods include:

  • bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta

  • pasta sauces

  • crisps

  • pizza

  • ready meals

  • soup

  • sandwiches

  • sausages

  • tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces

  • breakfast cereals

How much salt?

Government recommended levels of salt intake are:

  • Babies under 1 year: 1g salt a day (0.4g sodium)

  • Children 1 to 3 years: 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)

  • 4 to 6 years: 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)

  • 7 to 10 years: 5g salt a day (2g sodium)

  • 11 years and over: 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)

  • Adults 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium) (around one full teaspoon)

An easy way to cut back your salt intake is to stop adding salt to your food during cooking and at the dinner table. However this will only be really effective if done in conjunction with examining nutrition labels and buying the lower salt foods. And remember to taste your food before adding salt, maybe it doesn’t need any!

The Way Forward

Cutting back on added salt is a step in the right direction but is only part of the answer. To be successful at reducing your salt intake you must become aware of the salt that is already in everyday foods, and whenever possible buy lower salt options. Thankfully, nutrition labels on food packaging are very helpful. Almost all pre-packed foods have a nutrition label. Because of the importance of the issue many foods also display information on the salt content on the front of the packaging. With these few simple steps your salt intake can be minimized. It is an important thing to do because cutting down on salt reduces blood pressure, which means that your risk of developing stroke or heart disease is reduced.

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