Everyone Is Freaking Out About Salt, So Here’s What You Need To Know

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You’ve almost certainly seen the headlines about how a mug of hot chocolate contains more salt than a packet of crisps. Once you picked your jaw up off the floor and got over the shock, naturally you thought: what else contain strangely high levels of salt? What do I need to avoid?

The latest salt furore comes as a result of research from campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), which found that Galaxy’s Ultimate Marshmallow Hot Chocolate powder contained 0.6g of salt per 25g serving. This is, as many reports gleefully pointed out, saltier than the sea (as long as it’s Baltic or Black Sea water you use for comparison).

Hot chocolate was just one of the many products CASH found to be exceeding voluntary salt targets set by Public Health England. These salt reduction targets are divided into 28 categories, including drinks, canned fish and vegetables, and processed puddings, and are meant to be met by the end of 2017. So far, only one category – bread rolls – has met its target.

To demonstrate the amount of salt that can be found in similar products, CASH used the FoodSwitch UK app to create two baskets of similar food with drastically different salt content. The “unhealthy” basket contained 57g more salt than its “healthy” counterpart. Turns out it really pays off to check out the labelling when it comes to salt.

NHS guidelines recommend that adults shouldn’t eat more than 6g of salt a day, but Brits eat 8g on average. Reducing the average to 6g would result in 14,000 fewer deaths a year, according to CASH, and save the NHS £3 billion.

That sounds like a worthwhile aim, so for more details on the health risks associated with eating too much salt, and some advice on how to cut intake, we spoke to Susan Short, a dietitian with the British Dietetic Association.

What health problems are linked with eating too much salt?

Salt is a vital part of our diet. Our cells require it to function, it helps transport water around the body and it even aids in carrying messages from the brain to the rest of the body. However, go overboard and it starts to do more harm than good.

“Too much salt in our diet can lead to water retention, raised blood pressure and then ultimately a higher risk of having a heart attack, kidney disease and stroke,” says Short.

What foods contain high amounts of salt?

Perhaps the main reason hotchocolategate shook the country to its core was that it was such a surprising place for salt to be found. Fortunately, you can normally taste when a food contains worrying amounts of salt (because it’s absolutely delicious).

“Generally most of our salt intake comes from salt added to processed foods,” says Short.

Keep a close eye on the following in particular:

  • Processed meat products: ham, bacon, sausages, pâté and salami
  • Snacks like crisps, popcorn and biscuits
  • Ready meals, ready-made soups and pasta sauces
  • Pizzas and takeaways in general

“Even condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce and mayonnaise can be high in salt,” says Short, “as well as stock cubes and gravy powders.”

Six tips for cutting down salt intake

You know why it’s bad and where it’s found. Now try these six tips from Short on how to reduce the salt in your diet.

  • Use little or no salt in cooking – use herbs, spices or garlic instead.
  • Taste food before adding salt as often it can be added out of habit rather than for genuine flavour reasons.
  • Cut down on salty processed foods and ready meals – try to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients instead.
  • Check food labels and choose lower salt options. Less than 0.3g per 100g means a product is low in salt, 0.3g-1.5g is a medium amount and more than 1.5g means the product is high in salt.
  • Ask in restaurants and takeaways for no added salt.
  • Be wary of gourmet salts and salt substitutes that claim to be healthier (things like pink or sea salt). They might sound good but most still add salt to your diet.
Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.