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Home Cancer prevention Recommendations Salt and cancer prevention

Salt and cancer prevention

Limit the consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).

Consuming too much salt can be harmful to our health, increasing our risk of stomach cancer as well as high blood pressure.

Salt (sodium chloride) is the common name for a chemical compound made up of sodium and chlorine. Our bodies need salt in small amounts.

Salt and sodium – what’s the difference?

Some food labels list the sodium content instead of the amount of salt – sodium is a component of salt. To work out how much salt a food contains, multiply the sodium content by 2.5. According to NHS Livewell, a food that is high in salt will contain more than 1.5g of salt per 100g. A food that is low in salt will contain less than 0.3g of salt per 100g.

Related publications:

A Closer Look at: Salt

How much salt do we need?

Our daily intake of salt should be less than 6g (2.4g sodium) – we actually need much less than this. Most people in the UK currently consume more than 6g, but there are simple ways to cut down on our intake (see below).

Currently, 75% of the salt we eat comes from processed foods like ready meals, cheese, crisps, bread, biscuits and processed meats. The remaining 25% is added during cooking or at the table.

Salt and cancer – the evidence

Research has shown that salt and salt-preserved foods are probably a cause of stomach cancer. Scientists think this is because a high salt intake can damage the lining of the stomach.

Top tips to reduce your salt intake

  • Check food labels and select products with less salt or sodium. Bear in mind that foods labelled as 'reduced salt/sodium' can still be quite salty. Choose tinned or packaged foods with no added salt (or sugar).
  • Gradually reduce, and then cut out, the amount of salt you add to food during cooking and at the table. Your taste buds should adjust within a few weeks, allowing you to enjoy the true taste of foods and notice more subtle flavours.
  • Use spices, herbs, garlic and lemon instead of salt. Black pepper, chilli powder, ginger and herbs such as basil and bay leaves all add flavour to food quickly and easily.
  • Make your own meals from scratch. Cooking meals from fresh ingredients gives you more opportunity to control the amount of salt in your diet.
  • Eat fresh meat rather than processed meat. Avoid eating bacon, cured meats and some sausages as they all contain high levels of salt and are also linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer.
  • Limit the amount of salty snacks you eat. Replace salty snacks, such as crisps and salted nuts, with small portions of dried fruit or unsalted nuts.

Read all our Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

Facts about salt

Download the WCRF UK infographic on salt

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Salt and cancer risk

Page last reviewed: January 2013
Page next due for review: January 2015
The information on this page is based on the findings of our Expert Report and is covered by the Information Standard.

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