Most people in Britain eat more salt (sodium) than they need. The average adult eats 9g (2 level teaspoons) a day compared to the RNI (recommended nutrient intake) of 6g. Excessive salt consumption carries an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, heart disease and kidney failure.
Every cell in the body requires sodium in order to function correctly. It is needed for regulating the body’s fluid balance, for the healthy functioning of the nerves and muscles and for the absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine and kidneys. Requirements vary according to age and lifestyle or whether living in a hot climate (salt is lost through sweating), too much salt can be as damaging as too little. People suffering from renal disease or young infants cannot tolerate high sodium intakes.
The salt (sodium chloride) that we add to our food when cooking or at the table accounts for 20% of the daily consumption. Another 20% comes from naturally occurring sodium in unprocessed foods. But at least 60% comes from manufactured foods which contain salt or sodium compounds (sodium nitrate, monosodium glutamate, sodium bicarbonate etc.).
Sodium and chloride are low in unprocessed foods. For example salt is low in pork but high in bacon and sausages, low in herrings but high in kippers. Salt is also added to most canned vegetables (unless otherwise stated), most butter, margarine and spreads, cheese, bread, savoury food snacks and breakfast cereals. This ‘hidden’ salt can be difficult to eliminate from the diet, but by cutting down, or stopping altogether, the salt used in cooking or at the table, you will help to reduce consumption to a safer level, (you will also be able to taste the food and not the salt).
Sodium in everyday foods (1 level teaspoon of salt = 2000mg sodium)
Bacon – 800mg per average rasher
Bread - 200mg per slice
Cornflakes – 360mg per bowl
Crisps – 270mg per packet
Peanuts, salted and roasted – 100mg per small bag
Tinned tomato soup – 1125mg per bowl
Recently some manufacturers have announced their intention to reduce the salt content of many products. As salt is used as a preservative in some products, the levels may still need to be relatively high.
The Government White Paper: Our Healthier Nation has set targets to nationally reduce salt intakes to minimise the number of strokes and cases of heart disease.
Updated at: 2013-04-10