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Health Defence Blog

Welcome to the Health Defence Blog - a blog about health, wellness and a healthier you. Brought to you by the Health Defence team at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, you'll find up-to-date information on a range of topics from what's in your food to the latest advice on e-cigarettes!

Salt (or sodium) is a mineral found in the food that we eat. Eating too much salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It also causes your body to hold onto excess fluid and can make you thirsty. For people living with heart failure it is recommended to restrict the salt in your diet, as too much salt can make symptoms worse.

QUIZ - All of these foods contain added salt. List these four foods in order from highest to lowest salt content:  sausage roll / cup of instant soup / 3 rashers of bacon / large bowl of cornflakes. (Hint: find the answer at the bottom of the page)

How much salt do we need?

  • A little salt is needed to help regulate the fluid in your body and to ensure muscles and nerves remain healthy. However, too much salt in your diet can be harmful.
  • Adults should eat no more than 6g salt per day (this is equal to just one teaspoon of salt).
  • In Scotland, we eat way more than we need – on average we have 9.5g salt per day!

Where is salt found?

  • 75% of the salt we eat is ‘hidden’ in everyday foods such as bread, ready meals, processed meats, soup, sauces, and some breakfast cereals.
  • 15% occurs naturally in the food we eat.
  • 10% we add ourselves when cooking or eating.

How much salt is in your food?

Reading food labels is the easiest way to know exactly how much salt is in your food. Look per 100g of food – anything above 1.5g of salt per 100g of food is considered high (this may be colour-coded red). Check out our food label blog for more information. The salt content can vary widely between brands or varieties, so compare brands to find lower salt options.

What about the flavour?

  • Flavour doesn’t only come from salt. Try herbs (fresh or dried), spices, black pepper, chilli, lemon or lime juice, balsamic vinegar, onion, or fresh garlic and ginger to add flavour.
  • It can take up to 6-8 weeks for your taste buds to adjust to a lower salt diet so don’t give up and you will start to notice a difference.

Tips for reducing salt at home

  • Taste your food first - don’t automatically add salt at the table or in cooking. Use our flavour suggestions above!
  • If you have to add salt, sprinkle it onto your hand first so you can see how much is going into the food.
  • Fresh is best - choose fresh meat and fish instead of sausages or bacon; pick reduced-salt and un-smoked products where possible and opt for ‘no added salt’ or ‘reduced-salt’ tinned vegetables and pulses.
  • Go easy on the cheese: cottage cheese or a sprinkling of parmesan is  lower salt than regular cheese.
  • Try baking or roasting vegetables to bring out their flavour.
  • Limit the use of high salt sauces such as soy sauce, oyster, teriyaki and fish sauce.
  • Make your own stock and gravy instead of using cubes or granules.

Tips for eating out

Generally takeaways are very high in salt (….and fat) so are best in moderation. To lower your salt intake, try tSalt stop signhese:

  • Ask for ‘no added salt’ and for sauces and gravies ‘on the side’.
  • Swap fries to a salad or choose a baked or mashed potato.
  • Ask for no cheese or bacon in your burger and downsize your combo to small or regular to reduce the salt content.
  • Ask for steamed rice instead of fried rice or fried noodles.
  • Choose tomato or wine based sauce for pizzas or pasta instead of cheese.

Key points

  • Hide the salt shaker and flavour foods with herbs and spices.
  • Fresh is best! 75% of salt is hidden and found mostly in processed foods and takeaways.
  • Check food labels for high salt food (i.e. more than 1.5g salt/100g food).
  • Ask for ‘no added salt’ when eating out.
  • For more information about salt and reducing your intake, check out the CHSS ‘Salt’ factsheet.

Note: try not to use low sodium/salt alternatives. They don’t help your taste buds to adapt to less salt and they can be high in other minerals such as potassium (which may be harmful for some people).

 QUIZ ANSWER – Did you get the order right? Ranked from lowest to highest salt content is:  1) large bowl of cornflakes, 2) sausage roll, 3) three rashers of bacon, 3) cup of instant soup. Tip: just one cup of soup provides more than 6g of salt – more than an adult needs in one day!

Photo credit: © Caterpillow | Dreamstime.com - Sea Salt In Wooden Spoon© Larryrains | Dreamstime.com - Salt Shaker with a Stop Sign

***Disclaimer: always seek medical advice before starting a new diet, exercise regime or medication. The information in these articles is not a substitute for professional advice from a GP, registered dietitian or other health practitioner.

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