Research shows too much salt in your diet can increase your blood pressure levels and therefore increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Salt/sodium, what is it?
Salt is a nutrient with the name Sodium Chloride. It is the sodium part of salt that causes the problem. Sodium is also found in other forms, for example in baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for making bread and in a product for curing meats (sodium nitrite/nitrate).
The dangers of salt
Salt is linked to high blood pressure especially as you get older. When the pressure inside your blood vessels stays at a high level for a long time, it can damage your heart and blood vessels leading to a heart attack or stroke.
The more salt you eat, the more likely you are to also retain fluid in your body. Some women have a tendency to ankle swelling, feeling bloated and tightness of their jewellery at the end of the day. Reducing salt will help reduce this tendency to swelling.
All types of people, young and old, are eating too much salt in Ireland. If everyone in Ireland reduced our salt intake by a half teaspoon (3 grams per day), this would prevent approximately 900 deaths each year from stroke and heart attack.
We need to fight back and demand lower salt content foods, in our shops and at home.
Every gram counts
Most of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods, fast food, canteen and restaurant food. Too many of us are eating more than twice the amount of salt our bodies need.
Our body needs about 4 grams of salt each day and an acceptable maximum level is 6 grams or 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Many people, especially men, exceed this level of salt intake and eat on average about 9 to 10 grams of salt per day.
Children need to eat much smaller amounts of salt. School children should eat less than 4 grams per day and younger children should eat only the minimum amount of salt. Whatever age you are, we all need to set our target and stick to it.
The main culprits?
About 70% of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, fast food, canteen and restaurant food. About 20% is added at home in cooking or at the table. And only 15% occurs naturally in food.
Some of the foods we eat regularly, for example soups, some cereals, bacon and sausages, have the same levels of sodium as seawater, yes, seawater! One cup of soup has the same amount of salt as two cups of seawater, and one bowl of some cereals contains the same amount of salt as one cup of seawater.
That’s why, not only do we need to use less salt at home, we also need eat and buy more fresh foods – and cut out the snack and processed foods.
How can I fight back?
The best advice is to:
One way to choose lower salt options is to check the food label on your purchases, as the level of salt can vary from brand to brand.
High salt avoid:
Low salt alternative:
Other everyday foods such as bread, some breakfast cereals, and cheese contain medium to high levels of salt. This does not mean you need to cut out these foods entirely. Simply read the food labels to find the lower salt options and to follow the Food Pyramid recommendations.
At home, eight ways to reduce salt
Watch your portion sizes
Keep a careful eye on your portion sizes. This will help reduce your salt intake, especially if you reduce the portion size of high salt foods. And it will also reduce your chances of becoming overweight or obese.
Start reducing, and keep at it
It can take any of us a number of weeks to change a habit and to build it naturally into our lifestyle. The more salty foods you are used to eating, the more your taste buds will be accustomed to salty foods.
So when you start reducing your own salt intake, foods may taste a little bland at first. But gradually over about 6 weeks your taste buds will adjust and you will get used to – and love – less salty foods. You will then start to taste and enjoy the true flavours.
As for feeding babies and children, we should never add salt to their food either. As a result they won’t develop a taste – or a false belief – in salty foods.
Take a careful look at your weekly shopping list and gradually stop buying foods high in salt.
Many supermarket chains have already started lowering the salt added to their own-brand products and are actively encouraging their suppliers to do the same.
But you should vote with your feet and your brain. Only buy from food brands and retailers that already offer reduced salt products.
Re-examine all your food labels
A quick guide to comparing whether foods are high or low salt is to see how many grams of salt the product contains per 100 grams.
Sometimes labels state the amount of sodium instead of salt. To calculate the amount of salt, multiply the sodium figure by 2.5. For example, if a food has 1 gram of sodium per 100g that means it has 2.5 grams of salt!
Remember that the amount you eat (or portion sizes) of a particular food affects how much salt you will get from it. Stay salt smart.
Eating out? Watch out
When someone else cooks your food, you do not have control over the amount of salt, fat and sugar they add to it. So try not to add any extra salt yourself; and try to choose foods that are seasoned with other natural flavourings such as spices in a curry.
Eating out, eight ways to reduce salt
What about other types of salt
Any form of salt can increase blood pressure. Seasalt, rock salt and garlic salt all have the same salt or sodium content as common salt.
Salts described as low salt are mixtures of sodium and potassium, where potassium has been added to reduce the sodium content.
How To Beat Salt – Summary
Heart Health – Summary
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