Should I worry about how much salt I eat?

Ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper

You may be eating more salt than you realise – and much more than you need – because of hidden salt in our food.

You probably know people with a sweet tooth – perhaps you have one yourself. But some people say they have a salty tooth – a clear preference for savoury snacks and food.

However, like with too much sweet food, there are health risks associated with eating too much salt. And one of the dangers is that because a lot of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods, rather than added at the table or while cooking, we don’t always realise how much we are eating.

Is salt actually bad for you?

Our bodies need salt for our nervous system, muscles and our fluid balance to all function properly. However, the amount we need is very small – often much smaller than the amount we eat.

Eating too much salt can increase our blood pressure and our risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack, according to the World Health Organization. The UK government recommends we eat no more than 6 grams a day.

Does salt cause cancer?

World Cancer Research Fund has been examining the cancer risks of eating salt for many years. Our latest major report, in 2018, found strong evidence that certain high-salt foods are a cause of stomach cancer. However, these are foods preserved by salting such as meat and fish, and salt-preserved vegetables, which are common in some Asian diets.

Evidence on total salt intake, from studies worldwide, didn’t show a strong link with stomach cancer.

However, there’s another problem. You may have heard of HFSS food, particularly in relation to food policy in different countries. HFSS stands for high fat, sugar and salt. Food that is high in salt is often bad for us in other ways, too.

At World Cancer Research Fund, we know that an unhealthy diet – either with too much junk and processed food, or too little fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains – can stop us being a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese is proven to increase the risk of at least 12 different cancers.

How to cut down on salt

Salt shaker

It’s not enough to cut down on the salt you add to food when cooking or at the table, as, according to Action on Salt, 75% of the salt the UK eats each day is already in packaged and prepared foods, such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, table sauces, cheese, processed meat and even some sweet food – food doesn’t necessarily have to taste salty to be salty. This pre-added salt can’t be removed by the consumer, so simply telling people to eat less salt will not work when our food is full of it.

This year, for Salt Awareness Week, Action on Salt is asking the food industry to reduce the amount of salt THEY add to the food we eat. You can find out much more about the campaign here.

And if you’re keen to limit how much salt you eat, one of the best ways is to cook from scratch. Our nutritionists have created more than 300 recipes for all different diets and family sizes, and every single one of them is low in salt.