Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

As part of our series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about the salt content in food.

Salt is a common seasoning in the British diet. Many people add it to recipes and use it as seasoning on food. Many people claim that they cannot taste their dinner without adding some seasoning, but cutting back will enable you to discover flavours that you never knew were there.

We all need a little bit of salt because it helps our body’s cells to absorb nutrients. However, the majority of us eat about two-and-a-half times as much salt than we need.

Now, new research from Warwick University has revealed that in the UK, a reduction of 3g salt intake per day would prevent up to 8,000 stroke deaths and up to 12,000 coronary heart disease deaths per year.

The technical name for salt is sodium chloride. The sodium part helps to keep your body fluids at the right concentration. If you eat too much salt, your volume of body fluids increases and pushes up your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to heart disease, or stroke.

On average, people in the UK eat about 9.5g salt (about 3.7g sodium) a day. This may not sound like much, but to reduce the risk of disease, we should not be eating more than 6g salt (2.5g sodium) a day.

Salt levels should be much lower than this for babies and children. Babies should have less than 1g of salt a day. The daily salt intake of young children varies depending on their age.

As salt is often a ‘hidden ingredient’ in many foods, it can sometimes be difficult to work out how much you are eating. It may come as a surprise, but 75% of the salt that we eat comes from readymade foods, such as bread, cereals and baked beans. Even sweet things, like biscuits, have salt added to them.

To keep track of hidden salt, get into the habit of reading the nutritional information on food labels, where you will find the salt (sodium) content for 100g serving. As a rough guide:

a high amount of salt is more than 1.5g for 100g (0.6g sodium), and

a low amount of salt is 0.3 g for 100g (0.1g sodium).

Making changes to your diet can help you to cut down on your salt intake. Reduce the amount of salt during cooking, and instead flavour food with herbs, spices, garlic, and lemon juice.

If you buy ready meals, look for those with controlled, or reduced, salt. Buy tinned food in water, rather than in brine and cut down on salty foods, such as crisps, nuts, bacon and salty cheeses.

Avoid using sauces, such as mayonnaise and ketchup with your meal because they are often high in salt.

More information on Salt is available at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx