How to reduce salt in your diet
Do you eat too much salt?
We consume an average of 9-10g of salt a day. The actual amounts vary considerably from one individual to the next: 10% of us eat less than 12g while others can ingest up to 25g a day! Men generally eat more salt than women, especially as they need more calories from their diet.
Only 20-30% of salt in your diet comes from salt itself. The rest comes from the salt content in food, and especially salt added to bread and ready meals, for example. The AFSSA recommends reducing your daily salt intake to between 6g and 8g, which means 2.4g to 3.2g of sodium. Salt is actually sodium chloride, and the figures indicated on product labels refer to the sodium content in food (given in mg or g per 100g serving).
Hidden salt in our food
Salt has long been used as a preservation agent in food and has useful properties in food technology. It’s also great for adding flavour. Foods that contain high quantities of salt include bread, sliced meat, cheese, smoked fish, brine, salted butter and canned fish and vegetables.
Salt is also used in many ready meals and pre-prepared dishes such as quiche, pizza, burgers, ready-made soups, potato side dishes, fish and meat in breadcrumbs, and fish pie. We’re all eating more of these convenience foods than ever before, despite the warnings about their high salt content. Crisps and snacks are also something to be wary of, along with condiments like salad cream, mayonnaise and ketchup. Mustard, soy sauce, stock cubes and gherkins are also high in salt.
Salt is also found in sweet foods such as confectionery, biscuits and some breakfast cereals. Sparkling water is sometimes very salty, as some mineral waters can be naturally very rich in sodium.
What foods should you be eating?
If you can’t eat breakfast without bread, make sure you buy bread with reduced salt. Avoid salted butter and eat jam instead. If your doctor has advised you to follow a low salt diet, look out for products labelled “low sodium content”. Learn to read the labels on breakfast cereals, too. Cornflakes are around four times saltier than muesli! The good news is there’s no restriction on fruit juice, milk or dairy.
If you eat in an office canteen or go out for lunch, remember not to add salt to your food and avoid sauces. Go easy on the cheese, pastry and smoked salmon. Try to limit eating sliced meat to twice a week.
In the evening, cook fresh meals as often as you can. Buy sea salt or organic vegetable flavoured salt. Don’t eat cheese more than once a day, replacing it instead with yoghurt, crème fraîche or creamy desserts.
Snack wise, go for biscuits – but remember that the plain ones tend to be saltier. Biscuits with fillings are generally less salty and chocolate biscuits are in between the two. Pass on the canapés and salted nuts with drinks and go for healthy crudités, cherry tomatoes with creamy dips, melon balls, and dried fruit such as prunes and raisins.
How to cook tasty food without adding salt
Finally, here’s some advice on cooking great tasting food without adding salt:
- Reduce salt gradually and compensate with herbs and vegetables to add flavour. Try garlic, onion and shallots, and also aromatic herbs like parsley, dill, chives, basil, mint, thyme, bay leaves and oregano. Spices are also a good option, including hot pepper, curry powder, paprika and cumin. Remember that frozen vegetables are better than tinned ones.
- Certain cooking methods are better than others when it comes to maximising flavour. Try steaming and baking food in foil parcels.
- Vegetables such as cabbage and celery have a stronger flavour. The same goes for fish such as salmon and mackerel. Lamb and beef are also good for preserving flavour without having to add salt.
- Give poultry and white fish a lift with finely sliced or sautéed vegetables. Leeks and fennel will add depth to the flavour, and don’t forget a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice or white wine (the alcohol will evaporate during cooking).
- Pasta sauces should be home made using fresh or frozen tomatoes for the best flavour.
- If you’re boiling food, add salt to the water first. This means the food will lose less of its natural flavour in the water.
- If you’re on a low-sodium diet, use reduced sodium salt with a potassium base (unless your doctor tells you otherwise). Potassium actually lowers blood pressure and has the opposite effect to sodium.