Kiwis turning to cheaper processed foods urged to watch for hidden salt

The foods we eat play a key role in our health and wellbeing. However, with such a big focus on sugar in recent years, have Kiwis forgotten about salt?

Large Pasifika family enjoying a meal together

The Heart Foundation has today released a new position statement on salt and heart health which serves as an important reminder that we could all do with eating a bit less salt.

The latest evidence continues to show a strong relationship between sodium and blood pressure and the benefit of reducing salt intake on our long-term heart disease risk. Everyone benefits from consuming less salt, with the greatest benefit seen in people with high blood pressure.

In fact, people who follow a diet with less salt have a 26% lower risk of heart disease and a 21% lower risk of high blood pressure when compared to people who follow their usual diet.

Although a small amount of salt is needed for our body to function, the average New Zealand adult is consuming 8.5g of salt a day, significantly more than the recommended maximum of 5g of salt, which is about a teaspoon.

Heart Foundation National Nutrition Advisor Lily Henderson says the goal is to get people thinking about how they can eat a bit less salt while keeping to their food budget.

“Given the rise in the cost of fresh foods, many of us are relying on packaged foods now more than ever,” she says. “Around 75% of the salt we eat is hidden in processed and packaged foods, and it’s easy to eat more than we need.

“The sodium content per 100g can vary greatly between similar products. Small swaps at the supermarket like switching to a lower-salt sauce can make a big difference and often won’t cost you any extra.

“You’ll get the greatest benefit to your heart health if you swap products that you buy and eat often.”

It’s a common misconception that we only need to think about our salt intake if our blood pressure is high or if we’re older, but too much salt can raise our blood pressure at any age.

“Young children can develop a preference for salty foods, and we now know that high blood pressure in childhood tracks into adulthood, increasing the risk of heart disease later in life,” adds Lily.

Most of us add salt to our food out of habit. Cooking with less salt doesn’t mean you need to remove it or miss out on flavour completely.

“The good news is you can gradually ease off the salt and retrain your taste buds to enjoy less. Start with one lower salt product or use less salt in a dish you make often, and you may surprise yourself. Use ingredients like dried herbs, spices, lemon, vinegar, chilli, and olive oil in your cooking to help to deliver plenty of flavour.”

For ideas on how you can ease off the salt without losing flavour and to download the Heart Foundation Sodium and heart health position statement go to www.heartfoundation.org.nz/salt