The salty truth
What's the difference between salt and sodium? How much salt is too much? It has been part of our diet for ages, but many people struggle to separate salt facts from salt fiction. Here are the basics.
What is salt?
There are many different types of salt. The best known is cooking salt or table salt which is a combination of the minerals sodium and chlorine. One gram of salt contains 400mg sodium and 600mg of chlorine.
Did you know?
- A small amount of sodium is essential for our body to function properly
- Sodium occurs naturally in many foods
- Salt is often added to food as seasoning to improve taste or as a preservative
- Too much salt in your diet increases the risk of high blood pressure
Salt in the body
Eating a small amount of salt is part of a healthy diet. The sodium in salt, together with potassium is needed to maintain good water balance in the body.
Sodium in salt helps our bodies with a number of processes like transmitting nerve impulses and regulating blood pressure – all vital functions in our lives.
The ratio of sodium and potassium is important. Too much sodium in the body caused by a high salt intake leads to high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is unhealthy for your heart.
A pinch of salt
Historically salt has been used both to add flavor and to preserve foods, either through pickling or dehydration (helping them to dry out).
Adding salt prevents the growth of unwanted microbes. Historically, this has been an important technical tool to preserve meat and fish products, cheese, pickled vegetables, sauces and bakery products. Nowadays, more sophisticated food processing techniques mean salt is not always necessary for the preservation of many of these foods.
The salt you can't see
When most people think of salt they think about adding a pinch of salt to their cooking or sprinkling some on their dinner. But most people don’t realize how much salt is already present in the food we eat.
Up to three quarters (75%) of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy in developed countries. The majority of this is found in processed food which many people eat on a daily basis as part of a normal diet.
Some of the highest salt levels can be found in the most commonly consumed foods:
- Sausages and preserved meats
- Breakfast cereals
- Sauces (including fish sauces, soy sauce, pasta sauces, ketchup, mayonnaises, dressings, mustard)
- Chips, salted nuts
- Prepared meals
The foods high in salt content, however, may be different to the foods contributing most to your daily salt consumption. Therefore, there is no need to cut high-salt foods out of your diet altogether, but it is helpful to keep an eye on the balance of the foods you are eating. Always check food labels for salt (or ‘sodium’) and make sure you combine processed foods with fresh produce to create a healthily balanced diet Click here for more information on reading food labels.
Salt is an essential part of our daily diet and it makes food taste good. But too much salt can be bad for you, especially for your heart. Even small reductions in the amount of salt you eat can have a big impact on your blood pressure which in turn, reduces your risk of stroke and heart disease.
How much do you know about your salt intake?
It’s probably not something you consider often, if at all, but you may be surprised at how much salt is hidden in our diets. Find out if you are salt savvy or slapdash by completing our quick and easy salt quiz:
1. Which of the below groups of foods are highest in salt per serving?
A) Pizza, baguette, salami, chips, cheese, breakfast cereal B) Sun-dried tomatoes, canned corn, peanut butter C) Milk, vegetables, chocolate
2. How much salt does the World Health Organization recommend a day?
A) No more than one teaspoon (5g) B) No more than one dessert spoon (9g) C) More than one dessert spoon (9g) everyday
3. How often do you try to reduce your salt intake by checking food labels?
A) All the time, whenever I can B) Occasionally, if I can be bothered C) You can find out salt levels from food labels?
4. How much salt do you need to add to your food to be healthy?
A) None, my body gets the sodium it needs naturally from the foods I eat each day. B) I need to consciously add some salt everyday C) Constant replenishment, even more when I’m thirsty!
Mainly A's? Salt savvy
Congratulations, you are a Salt Saint! Keep up these healthy salt habits and you’re likely to enjoy a long, vitality-filled life with your blood pressure in check. Keep up the good work.
Mainly B's? Salt so so
Well done, you are a Salt So-so! You’re no saint and you’ve still got a way to go with reducing salt levels. However, with a bit more effort you can shake the salt habit and improve your heart health. Get started by choosing the reduced salt versions of your favorite foods and checking out our salt-smart recipes – they’re delicious!
Mainly C's? Salt slapdash
Oh dear, you are a Salt Slapdash. Try taking small steps to reduce your salt intake such as replacing salty snacks with lower salt options, adding less salt to food and use salt which has already had some of the sodium replaced with potassium or magnesium. Check food labels before buying and ask your friends for their favorite lower-salt recipes.
Whether you’re savvy or slapdash, take the salt test. There you can calculate your actual salt intake, browse low-salt recipes, and find out more about how salt affects everyone in daily life.