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.
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AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire, including Buxton and the High Peak, looks at salt awareness.

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.

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.

Department of Health guidelines say that adults shouldn’t consume more than 6g of salt a day, the equivalent of one teaspoon. For children this amount is even less. Babies should have less than 1g of salt a day. The daily salt intake of young children varies depending on their age.

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.

Having more than one teaspoon a day is one of the key risk factors in developing stroke and heart disease because high amounts of dietary salt increases blood pressure.

There’s lots of hidden salt in processed foods, particularly ready meals and takeaways, so simple tips like limiting your use of readymade sauces or making your own can make all the difference and help control the amount of salt that goes into cooking.

Other tips I would recommend include opting for healthier salt-free snacks such as vegetables or unsalted nuts instead of crisps, bacon and cheese. Replacing salt in cooking with herbs and spices can also be a tasty alternative and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on food labels as the ‘green’ traffic light coding will tell you if salt content is low in individual foods.

More information on reducing your salt intake and improving heart health can be found at the British Heart Foundation website