Salt and cancer risk

Can eating too much salt increase cancer risk?

Although the evidence linking added salt to stomach cancer has become less clear – partly because of the difficulty in measuring salt consumption – we cannot rule out the link. Our research shows that salt-preserved foods, which are mainly consumed in Asia, increase the risk of stomach cancer. Therefore, although such foods are less common in the UK, eating too much salt is still a health concern.

Do we need salt?

Our bodies do need sodium (salt) but only in small amounts. Our daily intake of salt should be no more than 6g a day – that’s about one teaspoon.

As well as flavouring our food, salt is used as a preservative to keep foods fresh for longer. So not only should we think about the amount of salt we add to food when cooking or at the dinner table, we also need to consider salt in the food we buy.

In the UK, the average daily salt intake for adults is over 8g per day. This is much higher than the recommended maximum intake of 6g per day.

Our recommendation is to eat less salt – find out how

How much salt do we eat?

  Grams of salt consumed per day by adults aged 19–64
  All adults Men Women
England 8.1 9.3 6.8
Wales 8.1 9.4 6.8
Scotland 8.2 9.4 7.0

Figures from 2007–12

Sources of salt in the UK diet

Source Approximate % contribution
Processed foods 75
Natural sources 15
Added during cooking or at the table 10

Salt intake statistics come from the National Centre for Social Research: for the UK from the UK Sodium Survey 2008, for England from the England Sodium Survey 2011, for Wales from the Wales Sodium Survey 2007, and for Scotland from National Diet and Nutrition Survey results from years 1–4 (combined) of the rolling programme: Scotland. Find out more about preventability estimates or, for more detailed information, download appendix A of our policy report. Find figures on cancer incidence for EnglandWalesScotland and Northern Ireland.
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