Is salt doing you damage?

You may have already quit sugar and reduced your red meat portions, but did you know that you may need to cut back on salt too?  

While salt in small quantities might even be good for your health, the bottom line is that Australians eat way too much; almost double the recommended amount according to the Heart Foundation.  

What is bad about salt?  

Salt is a compound of sodium and chloride. One gram of salt contains around 40% sodium (400 mg), which is the part we are interested in.  

The Heart Foundation says that high salt intakes are linked to: 

  • Rising blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke  
  • kidney disease  
  • oedema (fluid retention)*  

That means there are some pretty good reasons to curb salt. But how much is healthy?  

What is the recommended maximum intake of salt?  

One teaspoon, or 5 grams. This equates to 2000 mg of sodium. The aim is to eat far less than this. These standards are set by The Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council, along with its New Zealand counterpart.^  

The current advice is:  

Ages Sodium suggestion Sodium max
1-3 yrs 200-400 mg/day 1,000 mg/day
4-8 yrs 300-600 mg/day 1,400 mg/day
9-13 yrs 400-800 mg/day 2,000 mg/day
14-18 yrs 460-920 mg/day 2,300 mg/day
18+ yrs 2,000 mg/day Not known

Given that your average sausage contains upwards of 250 mg of sodium, it is pretty easy to eat more than the suggested teaspoon of salt to reach 2000+ mg of sodium over the course of a day.   

Is sea salt heathier?   

Not according to a report from ABC Health. Professor Bruce Neal from the George Institute of Global Health told the ABC that sea salt and table salt both contain large amounts of sodium.**   

The lesson is: even if your salt smells like the sea, you are still consuming sodium that can harm you.   

Things to watch out for & tips   

Sodium occurs naturally in food and is commonly added in all sorts of food as a preservative, meaning that most Australians consume more than a safe amount of salt. Packaged food is generally packed with salt. That includes things that might seem healthy such as some low-fat frozen meals.    

Similar to most of the good health information out there, cooking yourself at home with fresh ingredients is a great way to help your diet.    

Just so you know for sure, here are some common foods to avoid:   

  • biscuits   
  • processed meat    
  • sausages   
  • take away   
  • pizza   
  • pastries   
  • muffins   
  • cakes   

Shopping tip:  The Heart Foundation recommends you read the nutrition information on food packaging to compare products and choose lower sodium (per 100 g) options.   

How can I make food tasty without salt?   

There are plenty of ingredients that go big on flavour and make you feel like you’re not missing out.  Below are a few ingredients for strong taste lovers:   

  • Veggies   
    • Onion, garlic, shallots, leek & chives   
    • Capsicums & chillies (technically fruit, tuck that up your sleeve for a trivia night)   
  • Herbs   
    • Basil, coriander, mint, rosemary, thyme   
  • Spices   
    • Paprika, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon   

The verdict   

Cutting down on excessive salt is worthwhile aiming for, especially as you get older. Cook with ingredients that are strong in natural flavours to help you reduce your food salt intake. Extreme changes are not for everyone, so start small and see what you can achieve.   






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