Like sugar, salt – aka sodium chloride – is everywhere; just because you don’t add it to recipes or shake it on at the table doesn’t mean you’re safe from its sneaky reach.
Although we need a certain amount of sodium for optimum nerve and muscle function and to help balance fluids, our kidneys begin to get pissy (no pun intended) if they’re constantly battling to excrete an excess.
Why it’s a problem
Excess sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart disease. Also called hypertension, HBP speeds the build-up of plaque on vessel walls, which can cause blocked arteries. The more gummed up they are, the harder the heart has to work to pump blood around the body, increasing the risk of heart attack. Many people have HBP and don’t know it, because symptoms aren’t obvious.
There’s more, of course – too much sodium can lead to stroke, kidney disease and even osteoporosis, since a high salt intake can leach calcium from bones, especially in postmenopausal women. It can also cause bloating and fluid retention and make you feel generally icky. Ready to check your intake yet?
Pushing the limits
Experts say we should keep sodium intake to less than 2300mg per day. That’s about one teaspoon of salt. If you have HBP or heart disease, the recommendation is no more than 1600mg – just over half a tsp of salt. For perspective, Aussies currently consume almost twice as much as the recommended amount!
5 smart ways to cut back
1. On labels, look for foods with 120mg of sodium or less per 100g. Content varies widely between brands so it’s worth comparing.
2. Choose ‘low’ or ‘reduced’ sodium versions of products. The good news is many brands are on board; Helga’s new line of sandwich wraps for instance, contains 40 per cent less salt than other leading brands.
3. Watch out for ‘low’ and ‘reduced’ fat foods – salt is often used to boost missing flavour. Choose the originals instead.
4. Eat fresh, whole and as minimally processed as possible. That means lots of fresh fruit and veg, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds.
5. Cook from scratch at home so you’re in control. Use fresh or dried herbs and spices to add flavour instead of reaching for salt. Garlic, chilli, black pepper, ginger and lemon are all great ways to boost the yum factor.
Are some salts healthier than others?
Whether your salt is pink and from the Himalayas, Kosher, or straight out of the Dead Sea, it’s all still salt. The content and makeup of other minerals may vary but the sodium remains the same and has the same effect on your body.
Did you know
Salt occurs naturally, in trace amounts, in most foods but manufacturers often add more as a preservative and/ or to enhance flavour. If you have a salty tooth, gradually reduce your intake to help retrain your palate.
What’s the difference between salt and sodium?
Salt is a mineral comprised of sodium and chloride (NaCl from chem class!) but it’s the sodium component that can wreak havoc. When you hear people talking about reducing salt in their diet, they really mean sodium content, and that’s what to look for on nutrition panels.
What? Where is all this salt coming from?
According to the Heart Foundation, 75 per cent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods. The list of culprits is crazy-long, from the more obvious to the surprising. To reduce your risk of salty health problems, cut back on the following:
- Snack foods such as chips, dry‑roasted nuts and savoury bickies.
- Lunch meats like devon, ham, pepperoni and salami.
- Tinned foods such as soup, baked beans and vegetables.
- Many breads, bagels, crumpets, muffins, even breakfast cereals.
- Pizza, pies, sausage rolls and gyros.
- Jarred pasta sauces and dips.
- Soy, tomato and barbecue sauces.
- Cheese (sorry).
- Bacon (sorry again).
- Gravy granules, stock cubes and yeast extract.
- Fast food, such as burgers, nuggets, fried chicken, hot dogs and chips.
- Ready-made meals.