/ Food & Drink, Health

Take it with a pinch of salt? I would if I could!

It’s Salt Awareness Week, but do you know how much salt is in your food? Research by Consensus Action on Salt and Health found some pizzas are saltier than sea water – CASH asks how we can tackle our salt addiction.

As a nation, we have a love affair with salt. Put simply; we’re addicted to it.

Average intakes are around 9g per person per day; much more than the adult recommended maximum intake of 6g per person per day (around a teaspoon).

Research has shown that 90% of us know salt is bad for our health – but will we ever be able to wean ourselves off the white stuff?

I often think about this myself, perhaps over a bowl of home-made soup, or a packet of unsalted nuts, so I’d be interested to hear what you think about our salt addiction.

Too much salt and our health

This addiction to salt is damaging our health. Salt puts up our blood pressure, which leads to strokes and heart attacks, and is also linked to kidney disease, stomach cancer and osteoporosis.

Most of the salt we eat (about 75%) is already hidden in the food we eat from supermarkets, canteens, takeaways and restaurants, meaning the salt we add to our cooking and at the table tends to be a fraction of this. So, even if we could simply ditch the salt cellar (as I have), we would still be eating too much salt.

As the nutrition labelling on food packaging is still confusing, and absent in restaurants, cafes and takeaways we are unknowingly exceeding our daily recommendation of salt.

For instance, in our new survey we found that just one takeaway pizza contained 10.57g of salt – that’s saltier than the sea! In fact, half of the takeaway pizzas we tested contained the entire maximum daily intake of salt (6g).

For Salt Awareness Week 2012, we are highlighting that foods such as bread, pizza, pastries, biscuits, breakfast cereals and cheese are as much the culprits as salty-tasting food like as bacon, anchovies and salt and vinegar crisps.

Who’s responsible for our salt intake?

I think chefs are the ‘pushers’ of the salt world. They consider salt as the ultimate flavour enhancer, in place of quality ingredients and other flavours like herbs and spices. Perhaps TV chefs even have a duty to use less salt in their programmes and cookbooks? And would you be prepared to add less salt to your food (even though it may taste a little bland at first!)?

However, food manufacturers are gradually starting to wean us off salt, meaning we so we don’t have to go cold turkey. Old favourites like Heinz Baked Beanz, HP Sauce and Kelloggs Cornflakes are much less salty than they used to be.

And new brands of lower salt foods like Seabrook ‘no salt’ Crisps, Hampstead Farms ‘no salt sauces’ have been coming on to the market. But clearly that’s not going to be enough.

So how can we cut our salt intake? Would you ask for less salt when eating out in restaurants, or complain if your food was too salty? And would you, realistically, read the label on supermarket food and choose an option with less salt?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist for Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) – all opinions expressed here are their own, and not that of Which?

Kim says:
26 March 2012

Now restaurants have to put the calories on their menus, wouldn’t it be a good time to identify which are the low salt and high salt options?

Having lived in Holland and Germany, I believe that their salt content is way higher than ours. I can’t say for sure, but in comparison, when eating out, food generally tastes a lot saltier when on the other side of the channel.

I personally don’t think that there is much of a problem here, salt is always provided on tables if you need it.

I will never refuse to buy something if their salt content was high, if I want that product, I will buy it, simple. I generally don’t like salty food, but if say I wanted a pepperoni pizza, I accept that there will be a high salt content in it, meaning that I will be thirsty for the rest of the day.

So I personally rely on my own taste buds, if something is too salty to my taste, I don’t eat it. Any time saved in the supermarket is a bonus, hence no time to read what’s in a packet 🙂

Nicko says:
21 November 2014

You’re spot on, Dean. I have been living in Germany for a decade and have noticed that there is a very large amount of salt in food here. Visitirs from the UK or Australia remark how voliently salty restaurant food is in particular, but even simple food like supermarket cold meats are laden with the stuff. In general the people here are oblivious to these high levels of salt – they have become used to it. I have yet to see any foodstuff in a regular supermarket proclaiming it as low salt or low sodium, it just isn’t something that mainstream Germans have woken up to.

An earlier Which? Conversation alerted us to the amount of salt in bread. None of the bread I buy has any information on the pack. Two questions:

1. Is bread made with little or no salt palatable?

2. Is there value in switching to low sodium ‘salt’ in manufactured food? (Here I am thinking about LoSalt and similar products that contain potassium chloride and less sodium chloride).

I have a large loaf of Hovis Original Wheatgerm sitting on my desk.
On the side it says under ‘Nutrition information’
Sodium Per 100g 0.39g : Per 40g slice 0.15g
Equivalent as salt Per 100g 0.98g : Per 40g slice 0.39g

I always thought that salt was, sodium chloride (NaCl)
I think that common salt (NaCl) contains 1g of Sodium per 2.5g.

From the information it seems that Sodium figures are being given as opposed to the total salt content.

My Mum has high blood pressure so her bread is baked at home, we have found.
Bread can be baked without salt, a different flavouring can be added, as salt does affect the flavour.
In normal baking you can put far less salt in than the bread manufactures use, you just let the Bread rise for longer, tastes heavenly.

It is sodium that we need to worry about with regards to high blood pressure, so it is useful to give the sodium rather than salt content of food. There are other dietary sources of sodium, and monosodium glutamate is a well known example.

In LoSalt and similar products, some of the sodium chloride is replaced by potassium chloride, thus decreasing the sodium content. Many use these products instead of ordinary salt, but I do not know whether they are used in bread and other commercial products.

I have heard that especially in Europe we are perpetually Potassium deficient due to our diet, I would think that substituting Potassium for sodium would be advantageous.

But there are dangers of ingesting too much potassium!

So it seems that the only real way of safeguarding us is to put less additives in our food.

Someone should tell the EU to consult someone with scientific or medical knowledge and follow the practice in Australia, before we have a piece of silly legislation.

The health implications of high levels of salt intake, such as high blood pressure, are widely reported but if you’d to find out more in-depth info about the medical reasons why too much in our diets poses serious risks then this is a topic Dr Sarah Jarvis discusses in her blog, which supports this National Awareness Campaign: http://www.patient.co.uk/blogs/sarah-says/salt-why-the-fuss

There’s also medically-authored information in this post about high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, plus tips on how to cut back on salt. For instance, with a squeeze of lemon juice you can add less salt and still retain flavour.

Hannah says:
26 March 2012

TV chefs need to take some responsibility for their influence, especially with the growing interest in shows like MasterChef… How about including a ‘create a tasty but healthy meal’ as one of the challenges?

Ultimately though it’s down to the food industry to lower the levels in the food we eat and down to us to let them know that we want less salt!! But if the chefs/cooking programmes can prove that less salt doesn’t mean less taste it will help make customers more aware which will in turn help the food industry to lower the levels in the supermarket foods we buy.

But everything is healthy if part of a balanced diet.

Matthew says:
26 March 2012

I agree Dean. I like salt and salty foods. I don’t have high blood pressure. I shall continue to eat the foods I like. If I am in a restaurant paying for tasty food then I expect it to be sufficiently salted to meet my expectations. Fed up with nannying people.

Would we start sipping mercury with our meals again, ‘to aid digestion’, now we know the dangers?

Foods that were considered healthy or benficail once have now been shown to be harmful or downright deadly. Even smoking was initially considered beneficial!

Salt is necessary to life, as are a host of trace minerals, in small quantities [that would constitute a healthy Diet] but in excess it is a poison.
So shovel it down now, but expect your bodies to pay the price later.

Thing is the food manufacturers know this, but yet they still keep putting additives in our foods in dangerously harmful quantities, and when we find out and complain, they flannel us with nonsense.

Can any major food manufacturer in the face of all current medical and scientific evidence, put their hand on their heart and say ‘I do not believe the excessive salt levels you have shown exists in my products is harmful’.

Katharine – the point you raise about TV chefs is an interesting one – I very very rarely add salt to anything I cook at home, as I just don’t see the point. Unless I add loads I won’t really taste the difference.

I’ve always been bemused by people who add salt to vegetable water when boiling them, as well – does it make a noticeable difference? And is this something we’ve picked up from TV chefs, or is it something that’s been passed down the generations?

Adding salt will toughen corn when boiling them, I think.

A squeeze of lemon juice or rice/wine no salt on steamed leafy veg
is every bit as delicious plus a bit of minced garlic/
grated ginger that I prefer OR stir fry the whole lot.

If it’s just an excess of sodium WE consume, without a spectrum of other minerals to balance it (particularly potassium), then yes, it can encourage an increase in blood volume and BP…

The moral? Don’t JUST consume sodium.

What is the likelihood that those who are very careful with their salt intake consume too little?

hazel craig says:
27 March 2012

I buy my wholemael loaf from Tescos and when i run out i sometimes buy it from Lydls.On the Tescos loaf pkt it says; Sodium 0.4g & Salt equiv. 0.9g per 100g
Lydls loaf pkt says; Sodium 0.37g & Salt equiv. 0.95g per 100g.
Surely Lydls is exceptionally high compared to Tescos bread in salt content.Not sure as I have no idea on how this metric system works.
Any ideas anyone?

There’s “salt”…and there’s “salt”, some are better in their mineral availability for us than others.

Ordinary table salt is essentially sodium chloride refined of other mineral salts, some anti caking agent/E-535 added, plus perhaps a little iodine too (like Cerebos brand for e.g.). This makes it unbalanced in the sense that it does not offer other mineral salts that are present in more unrefined salts such as sea, Cornish, Maldon, etc. which are darker, greyer and not free running but sometimes faintly damp and better in a salt pot that you can grab a pinch out of.

Try tasting a tiny, tiny amount of ordinary salt then compare it with a less refined salt, and we will find the unrefined salt is less ‘salty’ as it were, and more stronger and flavoursome – not as “boring” in taste, if you like. Similar to the way ordinary white sugar is less rich than brown, brown is not as rich as honey or demerara sugar or muscovado sugar, and so on

Because salts that are more unrefined have more flavour due to the additional minerals, less is required in cooking.

So, try a more ‘posher’ salt and compare with ordinary table salt and I wager that you will be pleasantly surprised, while automatically using less due to it’s extra taste. Maldon salt is wonderful crumbled over Fish & Chips by the way!

Gary says:
3 April 2012

The “salt is bad for you” mantra is, simply put, bad science.

Read: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt
And: http://www.westonaprice.org/vitamins-and-minerals/salt-and-our-health

We need to be thinking less in terms of quantity of salt, and far more in terms of quality of salt, or dare I say it, ‘Which? Salt’

Re ‘The ’salt is bad for you’ mantra is, simply put, bat science.’

The first paper you indicate constantly muddies the water by confusing the fact that high levels of salt can cause hypertension AND hypertension can cause heart attacks. This is then short circuited by gainsaying those that claim ‘salt causes heart attacks’. Nobody claims that.
The second paper is produced by ‘The Salt Institute’, i.e. those that produce and market salt and is therefore worthless.

Now what did you say about bad science?

Too much salt is only bad for you in certain circumstances. People with high blood pressure need to be careful, but if you’ve low blood pressure its fine. I’ve also just had the bowel removed, and have to have extra salt due to potential dehydration (actually not very keen on salt). One option is a packet of crisps. Guess what 90% less salt!!!
As mentioned i dont like salty foods, and didnt used to add it to food, (I cook from stratch in most cases) but am noticing the lack of taste of tinned and packaged foods, – baked beans, soup and fish fingers – probably due to the reduction of salt.

Kay says:
4 May 2012

launching in August / September full range includes adult meals, NHS, Airlines, the elderley . Will keep you upated


” This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.”

On the other hand, have a look at: http://blog.heart.org/reduced-salt-intake-critical-american-heart-association-says/

It may be years before we have a good understanding of how much salt we should be consuming.

The matter is muddied by the fact there are genetic effects in play also. So what we may be seeing is part of the medical profession deciding on an average for the US population that is “safe”.

I always worry that when your head is in a lit oven and your feet in the fridge your average temperature is probably fine – so that is OK.

Heavy manual labour in a hot climate and you would be surprised if your salt in
take should be average:
” Average sweat sodium losses over a 10-h work shift have been estimated to be 4.8–6 g, equivalent to 10–15 g salt (NaCl) (Bates and Miller, 2008). Due to the large interindividual variation in sweat rate and sodium loss, these values may be even higher in some individuals, with reported values in excess of 10 g of sodium (25 g salt) per day (Bates and Miller, 2008). Regular consumption of food and fluid containing adequate salt content is therefore essential to replace these sweat losses to avoid the development of chronic hyponatraemia, potentially compromising the health and safety of the worker. ”

I believe the average[!] intake is around 9g. Seems that over centuries of manual labour perhaps the body may be getting it about right ……

The differences between individuals are well established.

It has always surprised me that no account is taken of temperature variation, since every school kid knows that we lose salt in sweat. Obviously this is very important for those living in tropical climates or long distance athletes.

I don’t use a lot of salt but when active on hot days I have a slight craving for salty foods.

Emily says:
23 June 2017

As someone trying to control their salt intake, everything in the shops and restaurants now tastes horrendously salty! I love my food and have seen a revolution in the availability of healthy lower sugar and fat food that’s actually really nice, but the supermarkets seem to have forgotten to take the same approach to salt. Is it time to revisit salt Which? magazine? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like another article on what’s been going on in our salty world

I generally agree, Emily. One food that does not taste salty to me is bread, but it contains a lot of salt. I bought a breadmaker after moving and finding that the village shop did not have any half-decent bread. I’ve used the low-sodium ‘salt’ in short-measure and am happy with the results. If commercial bakers did the same, it could help many people cut down their sodium intake.