Being aware of the amount of salt we’re consuming is an important factor in maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. As this week is Salt Awareness Week, we’ve pulled together some tips and tricks to help you keep an eye on the high levels of salt that can so often sneak into our meals.
Salt Awareness Week is a yearly campaign, run by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), to help reduce the amount of salt in our diets and, as a result, improve public health. Since its inception in 1996, a lot of progress has been made – a number of foods are now 50% lower in salt than they were 10 years ago. However, many of us are still consuming more than the recommended maximum intake of 6g of salt a day, which means that there is still work to be done.
HOW MUCH SALT IS IN OUR FOOD?
Certain foods, especially pre-prepared and ready-made meals, have salt added to them. Some ingredients are naturally salty, such as bacon, cheese, prawns, anchovies and olives, as well as sauces and condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce and mustard. It’s up to us to be conscious consumers and read the labels to make sure we understand how much salt is in a portion.
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HOW CAN I LOWER MY SALT INTAKE?
One of the easiest ways to keep an eye on your salt intake is to prepare your own food from scratch. That way, you’ll know exactly how much salt has gone into it. Why not try Jamie’s easy chicken stock instead of relying on the shop-bought kind, for instance?
It’s important to season your food to taste, not just out of habit. Make a point of tasting your food before adding salt – you might not need to add any. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away! Avoid adding salt when using salty ingredients and try seasoning with herbs, spices and citrus, such as lemon, lime or blood orange, like in these chicken and garlic bread kebabs, to add a different dynamic to your dish.
The key is to be aware of how much salt there is in the foods you are cooking with and adjust the portion size and amount of added salt you are using accordingly. This is especially important when cooking with young children, as their kidneys aren’t able to handle large amounts of salt. (Find out more about how you can reduce your child’s salt intake.)
Another easy way to watch your salt intake is to become familiar with food labels. Salt is often hidden in foods you might not expect, for example:
- Canned vegetables – make sure you’re buying vegetables that have no salt or sugar added
- Ketchups and sauces – although the suggested portion size is small, lots of table sauces contain a lot of added salt and sugar. Make sure you’re sticking to the suggested portion size to avoid eating too much salt.
- Breakfast cereals – although cereal is often linked with added sugar, added salt is also present. Again, make sure you are sticking to the suggested portion size to avoid high salt intake.
Food labels are simple enough to understand, once you know what you’re looking for. Here’s what the numbers mean:
- High salt = more than 1.5g of salt per 100g
- Low salt = less than 0.3g of salt per 100g
Some super salty-products, such as soy sauce, will inevitably have a higher salt content on the label. Try to stick to the suggested portion size for these products and choose a lower-salt version, when you can. It’s always wise to approach fast food and takeaways with caution – they are often unlabelled, yet contain high levels of salt.
If you’re after some homemade meal inspiration, check out these delicious, low-salt recipes that still deliver big on flavour:
HEALTHIER LIVES FOR EVERYONE
In 2002, the Food Standards Agency committed to a nationwide salt reduction initiative. Reformulation of the food industry was the main focus; lower salt targets were set across more than 80 categories of food, along with consumer awareness campaigns and an increase in front of pack and traffic light labelling (though not by enough – read about why this should be mandatory in Jamie’s plan to address childhood obesity).
Although the amount of salt we’re consuming has decreased by 15% over the past decade, the average person in the UK still consumes around 8.1g of salt a day – which can still put us at risk of suffering later in life. CASH suggests that for every gram of salt we remove from the average UK diet, we could significantly reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes and save 4,147 lives every year.*
Just like with sugar, when it comes to salt in our diets, we believe that a firmer stance should be taken to improve the nation’s health. Stronger, mandatory commitments are required from the food industry, retailers, manufacturers and caterers to help bring our salt consumption down to the advised level – and, ultimately, help us all on our way to healthier lives. Read more about our suggestions for food industry improvements in Jamie’s plan to address childhood obesity.
*Stats correct at time of writing.