Trying to eat a low-salt diet can feel near impossible, especially when salt in so many of our everyday foods.
But orientating towards a low salt diet is much better for our overall health, since consuming more than our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 6g (roughly one teaspoon) can lead to health issues, such as high blood pressure – one of the major risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
“There are lots of ways you can restrict your salt intake, and it only takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust and become more sensitive to salt,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at healthspan.co.uk.
So to help navigate the tricky territory around reducing daily salt intake, we have put together this guide on how to get onto the low salt diet, what to eat and how to make it a permanent fixture in your life.
What is the low salt diet?
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 the low salt diet 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.
Sodium vs salt
Sodium and salt are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Sodium is what’s found in our food, especially in processed foods, while salt is what we add to our food. There are also different types of salt…
- Table salt – Stripped of its minerals to give it that fine texture. Additives may also be added to prevent clumping.
- Sea salt – Harvested from evaporated sea water, sea salt contains minerals such as zinc, potassium and iron, giving it a more complex taste.
- Rock salt – Chunkier in size compared to table salt. Often used to preserve meat.
What are the risks of a high salt diet?
According to The British Heart Foundation, a high salt diet causes your body to hold on to water, raising your blood pressure and putting a strain on your organs. This can cause heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.
If you’re on blood pressure regulating medication, too much salt may also affect how well these meds work.
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 osteoporosis 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 of the low salt diet?
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…
These are the easy main meal swaps to make:
SWAP Toast (0.3g salt) FOR Oats (0g salt)
Nutritionist Mays Al-Ali says, “Opt for high-protein smoothie bowls with fruits or overnight oats with vegan pea protein.” Make your own overnight oats by layering 10g chia seeds, 10g ground flax seeds and 40gof oats with 150ml almond milk and 2tbsp almond butter.
SWAP fried egg (1 fried in tbsp oil = 0.8g salt) FOR poached egg (0.2g salt)
Skip the extra salt in oil and cook in water for a healthy choice. “A medium egg contains 0.078g of sodium, 5% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult woman,” says nutritionist Dr Juliet Gray.
SWAP processed meats (1.28g slice of ham = 0.3g salt) FOR turkey/chicken (0.07g salt per 100g breast)
You can easily add extra flavour to turkey and chicken with herbs – rosemary and sage go especially well with these meats. Slice up for sandwiches or enjoy as part of your evening meal.
SWAP ready-made soup (A 400g can of soup = up to 0.8g salt) FOR home-made broth (0.057g salt)
Skip your shop-bought soup and try your hand at making your own, using garlic, curry powder and cumin seeds to pack in extra flavour. If you’re using a stock cube, ensure it’s low in sodium.
SWAP CRISPS A bag of ready salted crisps = 0.5g salt/34.5g) FOR VEG STICKS (0.035g salt)
Dr Laure Hyvernat, nutrition expert, recommends ‘fine slices of carrot, celery and beetroot seasoned with paprika, herbs and black pepper’. Research has found beetroot is associated with a considerable reduction in blood pressure. It’s also packed with fibre, vitamin B, potassium and iron, making it a great all-round heart healthy option.
SWAP SALTED PEANUTS 1.19G SALT/28G serving) FOR PLAIN PISTACHIOS (0g/28g serving)
Raw, shelled pistachios are cholesterol-free and an excellent source of fibre. By adding them toyour diet as a snack, you can reap variousheart health benefits, including ‘bloodpressure and cholesterol reductiondue to their high phytostreolcontent,’ says Mays. This is a plantsterol which decreases risk of heartdiseases and inflammation.
Use herbs and spices
Some meals require a little extra seasoning, but instead of reaching for the salt, try adding herbs and spices. ‘Find a few that you like – such as curry and chilli powder – and keep your cupboards stocked up,’ says Rob. ‘Spices can be added to any meal, and are a good source of minerals, such as calcium and iron. They have also been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body.’
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.
A typical day on the low salt diet:
Shredded Wheat, semi-skimmed milk (Shredded Wheat is one of the few breakfast cereals without added salt) Wholemeal toast with unsalted low-fat spread
Grilled chicken with green salad. Use lemon juice and herbs instead of a shop-bought dressing. Homemade vegetable soup ? with no added salt
Wholemeal pasta with homemade pasta sauce made from tomatoes, onion, garlic and black olives
Fruit, unsalted nuts, natural yoghurt
Shocking salt facts
- A standard takeaway curry accompanied by rice, naan, sag aloo, popadom and chutney = 20.5g salt
- A slice of shop-bought pizza= between 0.6g and 1.5g salt
- Fancy treating yourself to a takeaway pizza? That packs in even more salt with 4-6g per slice!
- Chinese takeaway = 2g salt per dish without sides
- Foot-long double meat Italian sub with cheese and sweet chillisauce = 11g of salt
- Takeaway burger and fries = 1.25g salt
Most of us eat far too much salt, or sodium. It’s a health disaster as it raises your blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and stroke. Cut back by following our advice and low salt diet plan.