Salt: the facts

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.

Your salt survival guide

An infographic (PDF, 6.03Mb) showing the amount of salt in our diet, the damage being done to our health and tips for cutting down

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

Use nutrition labels on food packaging to help you cut down on salt:

  • high is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
  • low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

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.

High-salt foods

The following foods are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often or have smaller amounts:

  • anchovies
  • bacon
  • cheese
  • gravy granules
  • ham
  • olives
  • pickles
  • prawns
  • salami
  • 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
  • crisps
  • pizza
  • ready meals
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • sausages
  • 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:

  • Salt = sodium x 2.5

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.

Scientific research into salt and health

For more information about the effects of too much salt in our diet, you can download the Scientific and Advisory Committee on Nutrition's report on salt and health (PDF, 372kb).

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2013

Next review due: 19/06/2015

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Comments

The 15 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Louzu said on 22 March 2014

to fulcrum said on 21 February 2011 who said :

"Water does have no salt, fruits and veggies have no salt, raw meat has very little salt. And if you boil everything together there is still no salt in them.'"
Most medical advice refers to sodium in table salt and which narrows the arteries. Yes we all need salt/sodium. But all the above you mention have traces of sodium.; incorrect to say there is no salt in them.

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Daniel Watson said on 05 February 2014

Great article. Just to clarify on Nutrition packet labelling

If the packet says sodium rather than salt then i use the equation

" Salt = sodium x 2.5 "

So if my packet says sodium 0.5 i times that by 2.5 which equals 1.25. so medium to high level of salt

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Nimbleworth said on 11 June 2013

A word of caution to all of you reading this article.
My Doctor told me to stop eating salt, saying it was bad for me.I duly followed his words. This was in Winter.
As the weather got warmer and the process of sweating began, I began to feel ill. My Doctor told me to take a Holiday,which I duly did. I went to Egypt.
Within three days I was in a Cairo Hospital, an emergency admittance, my Body was in breakdown/shock. I was drip fed Glucose and salt for three days to bring my Body back into Balance....it very nearly killed me.

The reason for my Doctor giving such advice, I shall never know. But, perhaps I should have told him that I did not eat processed Foods of any sorts.

Since this Episode I have decided to take the advice of Health Peddlers with......a pinch of salt.

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User742371 said on 29 January 2013

Daily Intake of Water linked to Blood Pressure for more information

http://www.trendsfair.com/daily-intake-of-water-linked-to-blood-pressure/

A new study proved that drinking two glasses of water daily increases the risk of high blood pressure. A person who have high blood sugar levels but not up to the mark of diabetes, he is considered as Pre-Diabetes patient who have high risks...

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User733200 said on 16 December 2012

I agree that you don't need to add salt to your foods since it already contains a good amount.

Too much Sodium will then transfer into fat.

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Elbows said on 29 November 2012

I find it amusing how there are always people that deny medical facts because of something they read on the Internet or because it doesn't fit with their lifestyle.

Salt clearly raises blood pressure. Salt retains water, more salt means more water, which raises pressure. (Simplified!)

I had high blood pressure for a short period, I cut any added salt from my diet and it dropped immediately, no other change to my diet. Read other stories on this site about similar experiences.

If you find your food needs more salt, it probably means you're not a very good cook :)

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bulbfish said on 04 December 2011

I have been cooking without salt for four years and do not miss it in the slightest. I find that many vegetables contain their own natural salts which are released during cooking. Food cooked without salt does taste better to me, just add a little garlic, herbs, lemon juice or whatever suits the dish you are cooking. My taste has become so sensitive to added salt that I cannot stand to eat any dish that has been prepared using it.

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foodie said on 17 November 2011

I feel that the use of the word " facts" is misleading. Much of the information is purely assumption and opinion.
I love food and the thing that really iritates me about the whole salt in food debate is when people suggest that you can cook without adding it during cooking. Food cooked without salt does NOT taste better. A little salt in the cooking process enhances the food. If salt is added during cooking, it should be unnecesary to add it later. If food is cooked without salt it is bland and people end up putting unhealthy ammounts onto the food at the table.A small ammount in the cooking ends up as being a negligable ammount by the time it is divided ammungst all those eating and much of it remains in the drained off cooking water.
This moderate and reasonable use of salt will not GIVE you high blood pressure, but if you already suffer with with it, it may obviously be wise to limit your salt intake.

Once again common sense seems to be in short supply.

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Pravda said on 22 June 2011

For centuries salt, or to give it its scientific name, sodium chloride (NaCl), has been regarded as one of the most important items of diet for health. Salt was so important that people were actually paid in salt (it is the origin of the word 'salary'), and it was used extensively as a valuable commodity for bartering. Then, suddenly, in the 20th Century it became a killer: indicted as a cause of hypertension and, thence, of stroke and of heart disease. The evidence on which this was based arose from poorly controlled cross-cultural studies carried out earlier in the century. At least in the debates on the desirability of fats and fibre, trials were carried out in an attempt to provide evidence to support the hypothe­ses, but no similar trials have been carried out in the case of salt. The salt hypothesis has no large-scale studies to back it up. The intervention studies that have been carried out are confined to small numbers of people with high blood pressure, and many of these have failed to show that lowering salt intake has any significant effect on blood pressure in those with hypertension. And no tests have been conducted on those whose blood pressure is normal to show that reducing salt intake will reduce the risk of their becoming hypertensive.

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racheldawn said on 08 June 2011

I appreciate the level of detail in this article and think I will find it useful. I have just saved the high and low salt figures into my phone, and the equation to work out sodium levels. I have just had a blood test which revealed I have high sodium levels in my blood. I'm awaiting mysecond test to confirm and am not sure of the reasons why I have this; if I have too much salt or too little water. I dont understand as yet. I generally eat healthily but my diet could be improved. So I'm going to use this information to check the foods I eat and make sure I'm getting the salt that I need but not too much.

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User545928 said on 09 April 2011

You don't say why salt increases blood pressure. Is it true that the large bowel (colon) absorbs the salt and if one had no bowel they could eat as much salt as the wished?

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fulcrum said on 21 February 2011

People actually die very quick when they do not have enough salt - hyponatremia, when runners only drink water and take no salt - they just collapse and die.
So, better not tell people to cut salt out.
Water does have no salt, fruits and veggies have no salt, raw meat has very little salt. And if you boil everything together there is still no salt in them.
So, better to add some salt to this stew than getting the salt from chips and snacks.

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Blue Pearl said on 07 February 2011

I do not understand why the video is called 'Say No to Salt' when it simple suggests people cut down from high levels of Salt. Why are so many videos negative rather than encouraging positive behaviours? Just how much of a risk is higher levels of sale intake than the recommended daily limit?

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nikjr said on 08 May 2009

What about if a person has an active lifestyle. I often go on 4 hr + bike rides and consume large amounts of water - to make up for the additional loss.

Should I make a point of adding salt to my cooking, after intensive exercise???

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User59037 said on 06 February 2009

I am a person who does not like salt but my partner used to eat a lot of it. I convinced him to give it up but replacing the salt in the food by other herbs such as Herbs de provence, Sage, Pepper (both black and white), parsley and corriander. For example, cooking a piece of fish with parsley, lemon and garlic would give it a sharp-ish flavour which would replace the need for salt. Try it, it really works!!

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Tools

Salt survival guide (PDF, 6.03Mb)

An infographic showing the amount of salt in our diet, the damage being done to our health and how to cut down

Say no to salt

Dietitian Azmina Govindji talks about the risks associated with eating too much salt, such as high blood pressure. Find out how much your daily salt intake should be, what foods are high in salt and how to understand food labels.

Media last reviewed: 09/09/2013

Next review due: 09/09/2015

Stroke

Someone has a stroke every five minutes in the UK, and strokes are the third most common cause of death. The cause varies from person to person but it's important to know what your personal risk factors are.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Tips for a lower-salt diet

Practical advice on ways to reduce your salt intake, and your risk of heart disease

Could you have high blood pressure?

At least 25% of adults have high blood pressure. Get tips on how to keep healthy

Food labels

How to understand food labels and make healthier choices when shopping

Food and diet

Find out how to achieve a healthy, nutritious diet to help you look and feel your best