Sep 25

Know Your Numbers: 6 Ways to Reduce Salt

There’s been a bit of controversy about the salt/blood pressure issue in the last couple of years.  Critics claim that the obsession with reducing dietary salt has been harmful, we have gone too far, and that there’s no real evidence that reducing salt is helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Is salt as harmful for blood pressure as we've been led to believe?

Is salt as harmful for blood pressure as we’ve been led to believe?

In fact, there have been many studies, both large and small, throughout the world, which show that 1) too much salt has a harmful effect on blood pressure, and 2) reducing salt has a helpful effect, in conjunction with other measures.  So, I largely disagree with the arguments that we can enjoy plenty of salty food without consequences.  Of course, a ‘one nutrient’ focus is over-simplistic, and that’s where problems can arise.  I’ll be talking about other considerations in a future post.

Everyone does need some salt in their diet, as it helps to maintain the correct balance of fluid in cells and blood vessels, and is needed for communication between cells.  However, the Government recommends no more than 6g or 1 teaspoon of salt a day.  If you’re eating a Western diet it’s easy to exceed this.  If you’re eating a Far Eastern diet, you may also find things tricky.  Just 1 teaspoon of soy sauce contains your entire recommended intake.  Remember that most vegetables contain a little sodium, even if you’re not adding salt to your cooking, and fish has a notable sodium content too. So, if you’re eating plenty of vegetables, as I’m sure you are, you’re likely to be doing well, especially if you also eat fish.

Fresh foods have a salt content of their own, so you don't necessarily need to add salt to your food to have sufficient sodium in your diet

Fresh foods have a salt content of their own, so you don’t necessarily need to add salt to your food to have sufficient sodium in your diet

The Government guidelines are quite cautious, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for everyone to exceed them all the time.  If you’re concerned about your salt intake there are some simple ways to keep it low without sacrificing flavour.  Here are some of my favourites.

  1. Reduce processed meat. You’ll be aware that bacon and salami have a high sodium content (just one serving can exceed your recommended daily salt intake), but did you know that those meats that you buy in slices and put in your sandwiches can also be packed with salt?  Instead, make your own sandwiches from leftover chicken or beef that you’ve roasted at home, or better still, put a good portion of your leftover meat in a lunchbox with loads of veggies.  Love bacon?  I discovered a ‘vegan bacon’ recipe last week made with aubergine.  As I don’t eat bacon I have no idea if it tastes like the real thing, but I’m going to try it, and if it tastes delicious I’ll let you know.

  2. Cakes and breads

    Watch out for the hidden salt in bread, particlarly speciality breads and crackers

    Ditch the bread products. Whatever your feelings are about gluten, bread products, including sliced bread, rolls and pizza account for the top 3 sources of salt in the Western diet.   Instead, try salads in your lunchbox (you can make them very substantial, so you won’t be hungry) or, if you’re in need of something sandwich-like, try egg wraps, lettuce wraps or rice pancakes.

  3. Ready, steady, salt. If you’re reading this blog, I assume you don’t rely heavily on ready meals, but if you do, the salt content is something you’ll definitely want to consider.  One of the biggest culprits is ready-made soups, even if they’re in those nice cartons with the veggies all over.  They’re temptingly convenient, but they won’t be doing your blood pressure any favours if you eat them regularly.  Instead, make your own soup.

    Don’t use a stock cube if you can avoid it; 1 teaspoon of a well-known chicken stock powder, for instance, contains 21% of your recommended daily sodium.  Next time you have a chicken, boil its bones to make broth, and freeze it in ice cube trays.  That way you’ll be able to use what you need when you need it.  If you’re a vegetarian, include a tin of tomatoes in your soup.  They’ll contain enough salt that you shouldn’t need to add much more from stock products.  You can, of course, make your own vegetable stock, but it’s difficult to do so without it tasting like dishwater.

  4. Ease off the cheese.  I do love cheese but it can be a salt-laden luxury (that’s probably why it’s so good).  If you can, buy really good-quality cheese.  Not only is it good practice to buy from ethically reared herds but although you pay more for the cheese, you use less of it, so you can reduce your salt intake without having to sacrifice flavour.  Cheeses contain on average between 1.5 and 2g salt for a 30g portion.  There’s not a huge amount of difference between creamy cheeses and hard cheeses in this respect.  So, from a salt point of view, if you’re not eating other high-salt foods, a small portion is totally fine. The question is, can you stop at a small portion?

  5. Fresh fish

    Choose fresh fish rather than smoked where you can

    Choose your fish with care. Smoked fish is delicious, but it’s extremely salty.  If you eat smoked fish, or even some forms of canned fish on a regular basis, try swapping with fresh fish.  Fresh mackerel, trout and sardines can be both economical and delicious.  They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health.


    Miso Soup

    It’s so easy to make your own Oriental food; you can whip it up in less time than it takes to deliver a takeaway and you can be completely in control.

    Ease off the Chinese. Chinese food is so delicious, but it can be very salty, and in a restaurant you’re not in control.  Instead, ditch the takeaway and make your own Oriental food. It’s very easy, and some of the fastest cooking on the planet.  You can control the amount of salty ingredients, such as fish sauce, bean paste and soy sauce you use, and you can even buy a reduced salt version of soy sauce.  Do stay away from the sweet and sour, though.  It’s not authentic Chinese food, and it’s high in sugar and less beneficial fats.  Instead, try stir fries, steam fries and soups.  My top tip is to whip up a batch of home-made peanut sauce and use it in stir fries, laksas and satays for an instant flavour hit.  It will keep in a sealed jam jar for a good couple of weeks.

Of course, salt isn’t the full story; it’s never all about one nutrient.  In the final blog post of this series, I’ll be telling you why, and suggesting some great foods you can eat if you’re interested in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.


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