Salt Awareness Week (12-18 March) is a great time to find out how salt can impact your health, how you can make healthy choices about salt in the food you eat, and learn about the latest calls on the government to protect consumers. Sarah Alderton, Nutritionist at Action on Salt (formerly Consensus Action on Salt & Health), explains.
Eating too much salt raises blood pressure in people of all ages, increasing their risk of strokes, heart attacks and heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so many people aren’t aware they have it until it’s too late. Yet simple lifestyle measures, such as reducing how much salt you eat and increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables, can help to lower blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as the healthcare costs associated with treatment.
Salt – what are the limits?
The maximum recommended daily intake of salt is 6g for adults (about a level teaspoon) and even less for children, but we’re all eating more than we should, often without realising it. Salt is added to so many of the foods we buy – not only savoury foods like soup, sauces and ready meals, but sweet ones too, including cakes, biscuits and breakfast cereals.
Set new salt targets
In the past, salt targets for specific categories of food were set by the government for the food industry to follow, and companies were monitored regularly to ensure they were taking steps to meet them. This meant that over time, less salt got added to everyday foods, and because it was taken out gradually, consumers didn’t notice. They were eating less salt and reducing their risk of high blood pressure.
However, since the last set of salt targets was published in 2014, companies haven’t been monitored. Salt levels in food have reportedly started to creep back up and no further reductions in people’s salt intake have been reported. And no new targets have been set.
Salt reduction has been recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as one of the most cost-effective public health measures in combating cardiovascular disease. So it’s time for the government to put a comprehensive salt reduction programme in place, before any more momentum is lost. This should include new mandatory targets, with appropriate monitoring and transparent reporting, as well as enforcing clear nutrition labelling to ensure that the food industry produces healthier food. That includes restaurants, takeaways, coffee shops and sandwich bars, so that consumers can make healthier choices wherever and whenever they eat.
Make small changes
Meanwhile, we can all take simple steps to protect our health by reducing our salt intake:
- Don’t add salt when cooking
- Take salt and salty sauces off the table
- Use alternative seasonings to add flavour like black pepper, lemon juice, herbs and spices
- When eating out, ask for no or less salt where possible
- Check labels and ingredients lists before you buy, and choose options with no added salt, or a low/reduced salt variant
- You can use Action on Salt’s free FoodSwitch app to scan the barcode of a food and see whether it’s high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in salt, and get a list of healthier similar alternatives with less
Find out more about Salt Awareness Week.
Read our advice on eating less salt.