Many of us in the UK eat too much salt. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. But a few simple steps can help you to cut your salt intake.
You don't have to add salt to food to be eating too much – 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals.
A diet that is high in salt can cause raised blood pressure, which currently affects around one third of adults in the UK.
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. But if you have it, you are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.
Cutting down on salt lowers blood pressure, which means that your risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease is reduced.
For tips on how to cut down on salt, read Tips for a lower-salt diet.
Foods that contain salt
Some foods are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made.
Other foods, such as bread and breakfast cereals, can contribute a lot of salt to our diet. But that’s not because these foods are always high in salt – it’s because we eat a lot of them.
The following foods are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often or have smaller amounts:
- gravy granules
- salted and dry roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- soy sauce
- stock cubes
- yeast extract
Foods that can be high in salt
In the following foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties. That means you can cut down on salt by comparing brands and choosing the one that is lower in salt. Nutrition labels can help you do this.
These foods include:
- bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
- pasta sauces
- ready meals
- tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
- breakfast cereals
Soluble vitamin supplements or painkillers
If you routinely take an effervescent (dissolvable) vitamin supplement, or take effervescent painkillers when necessary, it's worth remembering that these can contain up to 1g salt per tablet. You may therefore wish to consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake.
How much salt for adults?
Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day – that's around one full teaspoon. Children should eat less (see below for recommendations for babies and children).
Of course, one easy way to eat less salt is to stop adding salt to your food during cooking and at the dinner table. If you regularly add salt to food when cooking, try cutting it out or adding less. You’ll rediscover the real tastes of your favourite foods. And when you sit down to eat, taste your food first to see if it needs salt.
Use nutrition labels to check salt levels
Cutting back on added salt is only a small part of the solution. To really cut down, you need to become aware of the salt that is already in the everyday foods you buy, and choose lower-salt options.
Fortunately, nutrition labels on food packaging now make this a lot easier. Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging.
Many foods also display information about the salt content on the front of the packaging. This may show the salt content as a percentage of your reference intake (RI), or have colour-coded nutrition information to show whether the food is low, medium or high in salt. Where colour-coding is used, red means high. Eat these foods as an occasional treat, and aim to eat mainly foods that are green (low) or amber (medium).
Look at the figure for salt per 100g:
- High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (0.6g sodium). These foods may be colour-coded red.
- Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium). These foods may be colour-coded green.
If the amount of salt per 100g is between 0.3g and 1.5g, that is a medium level of salt, and the packaging may be colour-coded amber.
As a rule, aim for foods that have a low or medium salt content. Leave high-salt foods for occasional use.
For more tips to help you choose foods that are lower in salt, see A lower-salt diet.
Salt and sodium in your food
Salt is also called sodium chloride.
Sometimes, food labels only give the figure for sodium. But there is a simple way to work out how much salt you are eating from the sodium figure:
Babies, children and salt
Babies and children under 11 should have less salt than adults.
Babies under a year old need less than 1g of salt a day, as their kidneys can’t cope with more. If a baby is breastfed, they will get the right amount of salt from breast milk. Formula milk contains a similar amount.
Don't add salt to your baby’s milk or food and don't use stock cubes or gravy as they're often high in salt. Remember this when you’re cooking for the family if you plan to give the same food to your baby.
Avoid giving your baby processed foods such as ready meals as these are often high in salt. However, food manufactured specifically for babies should meet the recommended levels. If in doubt, always check the label.
The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:
- 1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
- 11 years and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)
Making sure your child doesn’t eat too much salt means you’re also helping to ensure that they don’t develop a taste for salty food, which makes them less likely to eat too much salt as an adult.