What is it?Most of us eat more salt than we need. According to the Food Standards Agency, we should all restrict our salt intake to around six grams of salt a day. However, the average UK woman eats eight grams of salt a day while the average man eats a whopping 11 grams!
A low salt diet, also known as a low sodium diet, is defined as eating less than six grams of table salt a day - that's about one teaspoon. Salt is found in processed food, ready meals, tinned veg and soup. Snacks like biscuits and crisps are particularly bad culprits.
How does it work?
Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in causing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes. Research shows reducing the amount of salt in your diet can lower your blood pressure in just four weeks.
Who is the diet good for?
If you have high blood pressure, or it runs in your family, you should definitely be following a low salt diet. But even if you don't have high blood pressure, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your salt intake to prevent future problems. Research shows a high salt diet can increase your risk of getting osteoperosis and cancer of the stomach. It might also make asthma worse. According to government figures, about 22 million people in Britain are currently trying to reduce their salt intake!
What are the drawbacks?
None, in terms of health. But it can be tricky to work out how much salt is in certain foods and therefore how much you're actually eating. The technical name for salt is sodium chloride and one of the main problems is that some food labels list salt and others sodium meaning you have to keep an eye out for both. Even more confusingly, salt is equal to two and a half times the same amount of sodium. So if a label only has sodium listed, you can work out the amount of salt by timesing it by two and a half. For example, 1.2g sodium is equal to 3g salt. Luckily most supermarkets now use a traffic light system to label food's salt content clearly. And there are easier ways to avoid salt anyway as you'll see below!
What do you do on the Low Salt diet?
Throw away your salt cellar for a start! About 10 -15 per cent of salt eaten in the UK is added at the dinner table. In fact many of us smother our meals with so much salt, we've forgotten what food tastes like without it. After a while, you'll probably find you prefer your food unsalted. But if you're still finding it bland, try using herbs such as basil, rosemary and garlic instead. About 75 per cent of salt eaten is from processed food so the next thing to do is stop buying ready meals. Virtually all ready-made products like sauces, pizzas and even cakes contain huge amounts of salt to make them tastier. Try cooking your own meals from scratch instead. A pasta sauce made from tomatoes, onion, garlic and mushrooms should be tasty enough on its own without adding extra salt.
What can you eat on a Low Salt diet?
Plenty of fresh foods like fruit, veg and fish along with starchy carbohydrates like brown rice and pasta. But remember not to add any salt! Make as many things from scratch as possible like pasta sauces and quiches - and don't add salt! Look for salt free varieties of food like margarine and breakfast cereals. Even bread has salt in it so check the label.
Typical days diet:
Breakfast: Shredded Wheat, semi-skimmed milk (Shredded Wheat is one of the few breakfast cereals without added salt) Wholemeal toast with unsalted low-fat spread
Lunch: Grilled chicken with green salad. Use lemon juice and herbs instead of a shop-bought dressing. Homemade vegetable soup ? with no added salt
Dinner: Wholemeal pasta with homemade pasta sauce made from tomatoes, onion, garlic and black olives
Snacks: Fruit, unsalted nuts, natural yoghurt
Top tip: Be very wary of packaged sandwiches, especially all day breakfast and ham and cheese ones. The campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) recently tested 140 sandwich packs and found 40 per cent contained two grams of salt, more than a third of your daily allowance. The worst offenders were found to contain as much salt as seven or eight bags of crisps! Join our Diet Club Check out our calorie controlled Low Salt Diet Club plan and use our team of health experts to guide you towards a healthy, well-balanced diet. Join now and get 4 weeks free Visitwww.actiononsalt.org.uk or www.nutrition.org.uk for more information.
Where to next?Try our fresh herb recipes (you won't need to use as much salt)