General Health Wednesday March 13, 2013

Secret Salt – what are the health risks?

With eating out now more popular than ever (one in six meals are eaten out in the UK), a new survey has put some of our favourite eateries under scrutiny, with researchers revealing high salt levels in a staggering number of meals and restaurants.

The survey, carried out by the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), measured the salt content of 664 main meals from 29 popular High Street restaurants, fast food and cafe chains. Out of the 700 popular meals served, the survey found 50 per cent were high in salt, equivalent to a red traffic light label on a supermarket product. Even more shocking, 13 of the meals contained more than 6g of salt, which is an entire day’s recommended allowance.

As consumers, we often look at our food labels for calories and fat content, but often forget that salt levels are just as important to be aware of. The irony is, that low fat and low calorie meals are often higher in salt, sugar and artificial flavourings, and experts are now suggesting that we compare full fat and low fat options, as we may find the full fat options are more nutritionally balanced.

Salt - The health risk

Diets high in salt can have a detrimental effect on your health, leading to life threatening illnesses. Salt is known for raising blood pressure, and as a result, thousands of people die unnecessarily each year from strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. Too much salt can lead to being overweight, which in turn creates a lot of secondary health issues including: stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

However, cutting out salt completely from your diet is not an option. Ingesting the correct amount of salt is important, as we lose natural salts in the body throughout the day and through perspiration and this needs to be replaced.

Foods that are typically high in salt:

Whether you are in the supermarket, in a restaurant or just grabbing a sandwich on the go, here are a few tips to help you spot foods that are typically higher in salt.

These foods include:

  • Bacon, gammon and pork
  • Smoked foods- smoked salmon and bacon are prime examples of smoked foods that are high in salt
  • Bread- an average piece of bread contains around 0.5g of salt which is almost a tenth of your daily allowance so always check different brands to see which has the least salt
  • Crisps and salted nuts
  • Takeaways are renowned for being high in salt as many restaurants add extra for flavouring
  • Ready Meals are also well known for being high in salt, and often sugar too. Look at the label as these will typically have a lot more salt than if you were to make the meal at home
  • Low fat alternatives – ready meals and low fat alternatives often have more salt in than its full fat counterpart, so always check the label. The full fat option may be better for you as it is more likely to have natural ingredients and not be full of salt and other artificial flavourings – you just need to eat less of the product so you stick within your calorie guidelines

How to reduce your salt intake

Salt is a vital aspect of our diet and we need it in our bodies to function. However, like anything, moderation is key, so be aware that your favourite sandwich or pasta dish may contain more salt than you originally thought. When in a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter what goes into your food and definitely think twice before you add extra salt to a meal.

At home, avoid using salt when cooking and try to use herbs, as these are a much healthier alternative.

The Department of Health has previously said that reducing your salt intake by just 1g per day - a pinch of salt - would save 4,147 preventable deaths and £288m to the NHS every year.

The amount of salt that goes into our food is something that needs to be addressed urgently. Always read food packets when in the supermarket and don’t be afraid to try something new as a healthier alternative. Home cooked meals are the best way to control salt levels but be aware of cooking with ingredients that are known for containing more salt such as bacon and smoked salmon. There is no need to cut these out of your diet completely, merely eat in moderation.

Ultimately moderation is key and the sooner we get to grips with salt levels in food, the better.

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