Salt acts like a sponge in the body, soaking up liquid and retaining fluid. When you eat too much salt, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount of blood and increasing your blood pressure. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is pumped through it.
Short term, too much salt in your diet may cause you to retain fluid. Signs of this include bloating or swollen ankles.
Longer time, too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. This damages blood vessel walls, narrows blood vessels and makes it more likely for fatty deposits to build up.
Too much salt increases your risk of:
Salt is a combination of two minerals, sodium and chloride. The body needs only very small amounts (1-2g) of salt to control blood pressure and help muscles and nerves work properly.
The Irish Heart Foundation recommends no more than 6g of a day (one level teaspoon), and ideally less than 5g a day, especially if you have high blood pressure. However, most Irish people eat double this amount, about 10g of salt every day.
Children and babies should eat less salt than adults because their kidneys cannot cope with as much salt. The recommendations for daily maximum salt intake are listed below:
You may think you do not eat much salt, but did you know that the salt you add to your food accounts for only 10% of the salt you eat? Most of the salt we eat is already added to the foods we buy. Some foods have salt in them naturally and others have salt added when they are made.
Salt can be hidden in foods you would not expect. Check out our ‘salty 6’ popular foods that add high levels of salt to the Irish diet.
– Processed meat and fish such as ham, sausages, salami, smoked salmon, bacon, lunch meats
– Breads and wraps
– Soups and sauces such as soy sauce, ketchup, packet soups, stock cubes, ready-made sauces or marinades
– Savoury snacks such as crisps, salted popcorn, salted crackers, salted nuts
– Sweet snacks such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, some breakfast cereals
– Butter and other spreads
That’s a pretty surprising list. Some of these foods do not even taste salty.
The short answer? No.
Table salt, pink Himalayan rock salt, sea salt and iodised salt may all have different textures, colours and flavours, but there is very little difference in their sodium content. They all contain about 40 per cent salt by weight.
Salt substitutes usually replace some or all sodium in salt with potassium. But bear in mind that they can be overused because they often taste less salty than regular salt.
They also will not address the major source of salt in your diet since salt added to meals makes up only 10 per cent of the salt we eat.
Salt substitutes are cheap and widely available.
Most people can safely use them, apart from people living with kidney disease or taking certain medications.
Talk with your healthcare professional about whether a salt substitute is right for you.
Eating less salt is just one part of eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. It’s also important to eat a balanced and varied diet, drink less alcohol, maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.
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