Salt - the facts

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Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. But a few simple steps can help you to cut your salt intake.

A diet that is high in salt can cause raised blood pressure.
You don’t have to add salt to food to be eating too much: Three quarters of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals. But a diet that is high in salt can cause raised blood pressure.
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. But if you have it, you are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.
Cutting down on salt reduces blood pressure, which means that your risk of developing stroke or heart disease is reduced.

Foods that contain salt

Some foods are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made.
Other foods, such as bread and breakfast cereals, can contribute a lot of salt to our diet. But that’s not because these foods are always high in salt: it’s because we eat a lot of them.
You can cut down on salt by comparing brands.

High salt foods

The following foods are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often or have smaller amounts:
  • anchovies
  • bacon
  • cheese
  • gravy granules
  • ham
  • olives
  • pickles
  • prawns
  • salami
  • salted and dry roasted nuts
  • salt fish
  • smoked meat and fish
  • soy sauce
  • stock cubes
  • yeast extract.

Foods that can be high in salt

In these foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties. That means you can cut down on salt by comparing brands, and choosing the one that is lower in salt. Nutrition labels can help you do this.
These foods include:
  • bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
  • pasta sauces
  • chips
  • pizza
  • ready meals
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • sausages
  • tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
  • breakfast cereals.

Salt and sodium

Salt is also called sodium chloride.
Food labels in Australia usually give give the figure for sodium rather than salt. You can use the following calculation if you wish to work out how the amount of salt you based on the sodium value:
  • Salt = sodium x 2.5

How much salt?

Salt is thought to speed up the body’s loss of calcium. So try to limit your daily salt intake to the recommended amount. Australian adults are recommended to consume less than 4g salt (equivalent to 1,600mg sodium) with 6g salt (equivalent to 2,300mg of sodium) the maximum daily upper limit. This upper limit is equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt.
One easy way to eat less salt is to stop adding salt to your food during cooking and at the dinner table. If you regularly add salt to food when cooking, try cutting it out or adding less: you’ll rediscover the real tastes of your favourite foods. And when you sit down to eat, taste your food first to see if it needs salt.
Looking at nutrition labels can also help you reduce your salt intake. Look for foods with 120mg sodium or less per 100g. Crisps, ham, cheese, cooking sauces and processed foods such as pies, pizza and soups are all high in salt.
Babies, children and salt
Babies and children under 11 should have less salt than adults. If a baby is breastfed, he or she will get the right amount of salt from breast milk. Formula milk contains a similar amount.
Never add salt to your baby’s milk or food, and don’t give food that isn’t specifically for babies as it’s often too high in salt.
The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:
  • 1 to 3 years: 1,000mg
  • 4 to 8 years: 1,400mg
  • 9 to 13 years: 2,000mg
  • 14 years and over: 2,300mg
Making sure your child doesn’t eat too much salt means you’re also helping to ensure that they don’t develop a taste for salty food, which makes them them less likely to eat too much salt as an adult.

Nutrition labels

Cutting back on added salt is only a small part of the solution. To really cut down, you need to become aware of the salt that is already in the everyday foods you buy, and choose lower salt options.
Fortunately, nutrition labels on food packaging now make this a lot easier. Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the pack or side of the packaging. Many foods also display information on the salt content on the front of the packaging.
Use the nutrition labels to look for foods with 120mg sodium or less per 100g.
Leave high-salt foods for occasional use.

More information

You can check out www.eatforhealth.gov.au for Australian dietary guidelines or our healthy eating section.
Sources: eatforhealth.gov.au (homepage), NHS Choices, UK (Salt: the facts), Nutrient reference values NHMRC (Sodium)
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