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Why and how should I reduce the salt in my diet?

Many of us are aware that a high-salt diet is unhealthy. It can increase our blood pressure and may double the risk of heart failure. Here we discuss how you can keep your intake at a healthy level.

How much salt should I eat?

Adults or children over the age of 11 should eat less than 6g of salt (approx. one teaspoon, equivalent to 2.4g of sodium) each day, according to the British Heart Foundation. Children should eat less, only 2g for ages 1–3, 3g for 4–6 year-olds, and 5g for 7–10 year-olds.

What’s the problem?

The average UK adult eats just over 8g a day, according to the NHS. Although we need a bit of sodium to keep our body fluids at the right concentration, too much can cause our blood pressure to increase, which over time may damage our arteries and can lead to coronary heart disease.

How can I reduce my intake?

One simple method to immediately reduce our salt intake is to stop adding it to any food as we cook or eat. However, with many foods containing salt as an intrinsic ‘hidden’ ingredient, it pays to learn what foods to avoid or eat only in moderation. Two excellent guides include the Action Salt's Healthy choices low salt shopping guide and the NHS livewell pages.

What in particular should I avoid?

The following is a list of foods that are usually high in salt. By cutting these out – or reducing your intake of them – you will cut your salt levels.

- anchovies
- bacon
- cheese
- gravy granules and stock cubes
- ham
- olives
- pickles
- prawns
- salami
- salted and dry-roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- soy sauce
- yeast extract 

Additionally, there are some foods that need careful attention to ensure that you’re not eating a high-salt variety. Foods that can be high in salt are:

- bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
- pasta sauces
- crisps
- pizza
- ready meals
- soup
- sandwiches
- sausages
- tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
- breakfast cereals 

How can reading food labels help?

Some food labels have traffic light colours which can help you make your choice. It’s easy to see at a glance how much salt there is in your food and you should aim for the green levels if you’re trying to reduce your intake.

When trying to work out the amount of salt, ensure you’re looking at the portion value, rather than the weight. To avoid going over your GDA (guideline daily amounts), try to avoid products that contain 40% or more of an adult’s GDA in one portion. When checking the label, you might see salt written as sodium - this is just another way of talking about the salt content, but it’s measured differently to salt. To work out how much salt is in a product (in grams), multiply the sodium value by 2.5.