Salt in everyday foods adds up quickly

It’s World Salt Awareness Week (12 – 18 March) and the focus this year is on simple steps you can take to reduce salt in your diet. It’s surprising how quickly our intake of salt can add up across the day.

World Salt Awareness Week 2018

Most of us know that eating too much sodium (salt) isn’t good for our health, but we often think this is something we should be more concerned about as we get older. Unfortunately this isn’t true, eating too much salt during childhood increases blood pressure which tracks into adulthood and later life, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s a good idea to think about how we can reduce our salt intake across all ages. 

The maximum daily amount of salt recommended for adult New Zealanders from all food sources is about 6g. This is equivalent to 1 teaspoon per day but it can be easy to eat more than this. Remember, the amount of salt recommended for children is less than adults and depends on their age.

We currently consume around 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day which is one and half times the recommended maximum intake. Most of this comes from the processed and manufactured food we buy.

World Salt Awareness Week 2018 focuses on reducing our salt intake. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

5 steps to help reduce your daily salt intake

1. Choose whole, unprocessed foods and eat plenty of vegetables and fruit

eat less processed foods

The key to a heart healthy eating pattern is to base our diets on whole, minimally-processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit. These foods are generally lower in salt than processed foods. The more processing – the more likely salt has been added along the way.

When doing your food shopping, about 40% of your trolley should be filled with vegetables and fruit. Fresh, frozen, canned fruit and vegetables are all great options. Just remember to drain the brine (salty water) from canned vegetables.

2. Check food labels before you buy to help you choose less salty options

Check food labels

When you start comparing products, it’s surprising to see how the level of sodium can vary so much between similar products.

Check food labels using the Nutrition Information Panel to find foods with the lowest sodium per 100g.

To keep it simple when looking on a food label - LESS is BEST! Choose products which have the least amount of sodium per 100g.

Compare foods that are high in salt (like processed meats and sauces) but also compare the packaged foods that you eat often (like bread and breakfast cereals). Although these foods contain moderate amounts of sodium, they can contribute a lot of salt to our diets which can add up quickly (i.e. eating several slices of bread per day).

3. Take salt and salty sauces off the table so younger family members won’t develop the habit of adding salt

Table sauces contain hidden salt

Tomato sauce, mustard, barbeque sauce, chutneys and soy sauces all contain considerable amounts of salt. The reality is, most of us have probably eaten more salt than recommended through packaged foods before we even pick up a salt shaker or drown our meal in tomato sauce.

Tastes and eating habits are formed early by children. If a child is exposed to salty foods when they are young, it is more likely that they will have a preference for salty foods when they are adults. If your family regularly uses table salt and salty sauces, removing them from the table will help to reduce your reliance on using sauces to add flavour to meals.

What about sauces with less salt? You may have noticed some brands of sauce have reduced salt versions i.e. ‘35% less salt tomato sauce’. These options are good to look out for if your family loves sauce but just be mindful that these sauces contain ‘less’ salt but are still not ‘low’ in salt.

4. Use herbs, spices, garlic and citrus in place of salt to add flavour to your food during cooking and at the table

Spices instead of salt

Although most of the salt we eat comes from processed and packaged food, you can easily add plenty of flavour to your meals by using herbs, spices and citrus (lemon or lime zest), dressings and vinegar in place of salt. Remember ingredients like stock, soy sauce and miso all contain hidden salt so go easy on them and choose lower/reduced salt versions if they are available.

Gradually add less salt to your favourite recipes - your taste buds will adapt over time.

Click here for recipe ideas that use plenty of herbs, spices and lots of tasty ingredients that add flavour to food.

5. Cut back on processed meats, smoked foods and salty takeaways

Cut back on processed meat

Another simple way to reduce our salt intake is to cut back on salty foods and choose more whole, minimally-processed foods.

Processed meats like ham, bacon, sausages, luncheon, canned corned beef, smoked chicken and smoked fish are all high in salt. Consider alternating processed and smoked meats with sandwich fillings like chicken, tuna, egg and hummus to cut down on salt.

Takeaways cost a lot more than home cooked meals and they usually contain more salt. As an alternative, try making similar meals at home. If you eat takeaways one day a week, watch your salt intake for the rest of that week.

Learn more about healthy eatingCheck out these nutrition facts
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.