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Shaking it up: the story behind salt

In the ever dieting world, salt is an often overlooked nutrient. Cutting out sugar, carbohydrates or grains seems to be the mainstay of fad diets the world over. But salt barely features a mention! This seemingly innocuous flavouring can actually cause significant issues for our bodies; so let’s explore what is salt and how we can manage our intake.

What is salt and what does it do?

Salt is a nutrient made of the minerals sodium and chloride. The health properties of salt are linked mostly to the sodium. Sodium is important in small quantities for overall health and is needed in a variety of bodily functions including the functioning of our muscles, nerves and regulating blood pressure and volume.

What happens if we eat too much?

The average Australian consumes significantly more salt than is needed for good health. We consume on average nine grams of salt per day, whereas the recommended suggested dietary target of salt is set at five grams of salt (2000mg/day sodium). This means Australians’ average intake is almost double the recommended intake with nine grams being equivalent to consuming 12 salt sachets every single day.

A high intake of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and even stroke.

What foods contain salt?

When people think of eating salt they are often thinking of the salt shaker that sits on the dining table. However, salt is found in many foods in our diet and we are often oblivious to how much salt we are really consuming. 

Unprocessed foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed meats naturally contain very little salt. Processed food is in fact where most of the salt in our diet comes from. About 75 per cent of our salt intake comes from packaged and processed foods like bread, breakfast cereals and cereal products, processed meats, soups, sauces, condiments and spreads. Fast foods are typically very high in salt.

How can I reduce my salt intake?

Label Reading:

Using less table salt is easy to measure, however consuming less salt hidden in foods requires some label reading prowess.

When looking at food packaging, what do we need to read?

Nutrient Claims

  • A nutrient claim of low salt/sodium means there is less than 120mg per 100g
  • No added salt means that there was no salt added during processing
  • Reduced salt or salt reduced means they have less than the original recipe however these foods can still contain high amounts

Nutrition Panel

  • As a general rule any food with 150mg (= 3.75 grams salt) or more salt per 100g should be avoided

NUTRITION INFORMATION - Higher salt rice cracker

SERVINGS PER PACKAGE:  4

SERVING SIZE:  25g

 

PER 25g serve

PER 100g

ENERGY

395kJ

1580kJ

PROTEIN

1.6g

6.5g

FAT

- TOTAL

- SATURATED

 

1.3g

0.5g

 

5g

2.1g

CARBOHYDRATE

- TOTAL

- SUGARS

 

18.9g

0.3g

 

75.4g

1.3g

DIETARY FIBRE

0.2g

0.8g

SODIUM

298mg

1190mg


Choose Low Salt Foods

  • Use more unprocessed foods—fresh or snap frozen fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat instead of deli meats, fresh fish or plain frozen fillets, eggs, plain pasta or noodles, rice or cous cous
  • Look out for low-sodium, or no added salt on the label of tinned or jarred food or aim for lower salt options by reading the label
    o Switches can be no added salt peanut butter, tuna or salmon in spring water instead of brine/flavourings,  no added salt legumes/baked beans•
  •  Try making homemade stocks, gravy, pasta sauces, and salad dressings
  • Look for unsalted snacks such as nuts, plain or air-popped popcorn, nut or muesli bars, low-salt crackers with lower salt cheeses (such as ricotta, cottage, and some cream cheeses)
  • At restaurants remember you are a paying customer and can ask for no added salt or sauces on the side

What about the taste?

Taste buds have an average lifespan of 10 days, so getting used to lower salt gets easier over time. If we start reducing salt our older taste buds that are accustomed to high salt will be replaced by new ones that can even start to taste the other flavours the salt may have been masking previously.

To help keep lots of flavour in our foods try experimenting with herbs, spices, garlic and chilli for example:

  • Mint or currant jelly with lamb
  • Fennel or mustard with pork
  • Bay leaf, thyme, or sage with beef
  • Lemon juice, garlic, or pepper with chicken
  • Lemon pepper, chives, or parsley with fish
  • Chives or paprika with potato
  • Ginger, honey, or cinnamon with carrot
  • Try lemon or lime juices to boost flavour or tenderise meats

What about different salts?

There’s a large range of salt available including sea salt, iodised salt, vegetable or celery salt, Himalayan salt, Persian Blue salt, Black lava salt, and the list goes on.  However it is important to know despite slight differences in some mineral content and colouring, the main ingredient for all these salts is still sodium. Remember it’s the sodium that has the consequences if we eat too much.

Salt substitutes do also exist on the market, these products are salt where the sodium has been removed and replaced with a mineral called potassium. This may not be appropriate for you if you have a history of kidney disease and also doesn’t help with those taste buds getting accustomed to less salt and more of the other flavours.

Debunking salt myths

Cramps

There are many theories around cramps but salt usually isn’t the culprit. Rather, cramps are often due to tired muscles so instead of having salt because of cramps, make sure you are fuelling your body for exercise, warming up and drinking enough fluid.

Sweating and losing salt

For general sweating in our Queensland weather our bodies are pretty good at keeping the balance of sodium right, so it’s just important to keep up those fluids, preferably water, with eight to 10 cups a day.

Salt tablets

There are different medical conditions where you can be prescribed salt tablets but for the average person these are not recommended.

Want to know more?

Accredited Practising Dietitians are nutrition experts. They can help you find ways to decrease your salt intake and improve the quality of your diet. You can book an appointment with one of our APDs at the Mater Health & Wellness Clinic. Contact 07 3163 6387 to book today. Don’t forget, if you are a staff member you are eligible for a 10 per cent discount on all consultations.

CONTACT

Level 1, Mater Corporate

Services Building

Raymond Terrace

South Brisbane Qld 4101

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