Salt and cancer prevention

Can eating too much salt increase cancer risk?

You may be aware that eating too much salt can be bad for you. It can increase the risk of high blood pressure and salt-preserved foods increase the risk of stomach cancer.

What is salt?

Salt (sodium chloride) is the common name for a chemical compound made up of sodium and chlorine.

How much salt do you need?

Our bodies do need salt but only in small amounts. Our daily intake of salt should be less than 6g (2.4g sodium). We actually need much less than this. Many people in the UK consume a lot more salt than this every day.

How do you know how much salt is in foods?

Looking at food labels can help you to work out whether a food is high in salt.

Some food labels list the sodium content instead of the amount of salt. To work out how much salt a food contains, multiply the sodium content by 2.5. For example, if a ready meal contains 1g of sodium, this is equal to 2.5g of salt.

The new traffic light food labels make it clear if a food is ‘low’ ‘medium’ or ‘high’ in salt.

According to the Department of Health high-salt foods contain over 1.5g of salt per 100g. Low-salt foods contain less than 0.3g of salt per 100g.

What’s the evidence on salt and cancer?

Research shows that salt-preserved foods are a cause of stomach cancer. Scientists think this might be because salt damages the lining of the stomach. The evidence linking added salt and stomach cancer is now less clear, although we cannot rule out this link. As eating too much salt is still a health concern, we recommend limiting the amount of salt in your diet.

Tips for eating less salt

  • Check food labels and choose products with less salt or sodium. Some frequently eaten food such as canned soups and bread can be surprisingly high in salt. Also, bear in mind that foods labelled as ‘reduced salt/sodium’ can still be quite salty. Pick canned or packaged foods with no added salt
  • Gradually reduce, then cut out, the salt that you add during cooking or at the table. Your taste buds should adjust within a few weeks allowing you to enjoy the true flavour of food 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
  • Eat fresh rather than processed meats – bacon, cured meats and some sausages all contain high levels of salt and can also cause bowel cancer
  • Cook from scratch when you can – it’s a good way to control how much salt, fat and sugar is in your diet. Try one of our delicious healthy recipes