Why should I lower my salt intake?

checking a food labelA high salt intake is implicated in a variety of health problems, most importantly, in raising people's blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney disease. Salt may also play a role in other health problems such as osteoarthritis, cancer, asthma, Ménière's disease and obesity. Lowering your salt intake will improve your health and reduce the risk of these types of health problems.

Should children have a lower salt diet too?

Yes, many children are consuming as much salt as adults. There is evidence that a high salt intake in childhood may predispose people to getting high blood pressure later in life. A high salt intake along with low calcium intake may also predispose children to developing osteoporosis later in life. A high salt intake is dangerous to babies and very young children. See Salt and Children for more information.

Is it safe for pregnant women and senior citizens to lower their salt intake?

There is no good data available about the effects of salt intake in pregnancy. Before you consider changing the salt content of your diet in pregnancy you should consult your doctor. There is also the added consideration that salt may be an important source of iodine for pregnant women - although this can be obtained from other sources.

For older people, it is almost always going to be advantageous to lower salt consumption. While there may be a few individuals whom doctors may advise against reducing salt consumption, there is little evidence that this strategy will improve health or symptoms. By contrast, the evidence for beneficial effects of reducing salt intake in the elderly is much stronger.

What about iodine? Don't I need salt for that?

An adequate iodine intake is important for health, particularly for pregnant women and young children. In some parts of the world, but not currently in Australia, iodised salt is widely used to deliver iodine.

There is an ongoing debate about the relative merits of fortifying salt (something that is harmful) with iodine (something that is beneficial). A new WHO recommendation is expected within the next few months.

In the meantime, unless you are a young child or a pregnant woman, your health is very unlikely to be harmed by reducing the amount of iodised salt you eat. And if you are a young child or a pregnant woman then you should seriously consider trying to find an alternate source of iodine if you believe you may be deficient. There are some dietary supplements available that include iodine.

Which foods contain the most salt?

The highest salt-containing foods are generally processed foods including bread, some breakfast cereals, soups, cheese, ready meals, processed meat, such as sausages, ham and bacon, smoked foods and baked beans. Restaurant and takeaway food also generally contain high salt levels.

It is difficult to avoid eating some of these foods but look for low salt alternatives instead, or eat fresh food which has no added salt.

What is the difference between sodium and salt?

Sodium is a component of salt. Salt is made up of both sodium and chloride and it is the sodium in salt which makes it bad for our health. This means that sodium is the item on food labels that we need to look out for when trying to choose low salt products.

How do I work out how much salt is in a product from its sodium content?

To find out how much salt is in a given product, multiply the quantity of sodium by 2.5.

How do I know when shopping which are low and high salted foods?

Australia only has a definition for low salt foods, so the medium and high levels here are based on the UK recommendations.

Less than 120mg sodium per 100g is low.
120 to 600mg sodium per 100g is medium.
More than 600mg sodium per 100g is high.

Will my taste buds adapt to eating less salt and how long will it take?

Yes. Our taste buds are very adaptable and after 3 to 4 weeks on a low salt diet, they will be more sensitive to salt than they were before. This will make some foods seem saltier than they used to, making it easy to stick to your new diet, and harder to enjoy heavily salted foods.

I'm finding it hard to find reduced-salt stock cubes. What's the alternative?

There are some low salt stock powders available - Find Low Salt Food has details.

If you have time, you can also try making your own - there are recipes available on the British site www.salt.gov.uk.

I have a bread-making machine and have tried to make bread without salt, but I can't get the dough to rise. Can you suggest how to make bread with no salt?

Find Low Salt Food includes a low salt recipe to use in bread machines and general advice on how to successfully make bread with no added salt.