It’s confusing when we’re being told not to eat too much salt, that more and more ‘gourmet’ varieties are appearing on the shelves, marketed as healthy. Here’s why you should take some of their claims with a grain of you-know-what.
One look at the variety of salts available in the supermarket and you’d never know health experts advise we use less of the white stuff. The shelves are the fullest they’ve ever been of fine, coarse and rock salt, plus blends with exotic ingredients such as truffle, vanilla, porchini and seaweed. There’s even salty flavours of almost everything, including sweet treats like macaroons and gelato.
The story on salt
Experts agree if we want to stay healthy, it’s important to eat less salt. Salt (due to its sodium content) raises our blood pressure, and high blood pressure is one of the single biggest risk factors for stroke and heart disease. Alarmingly, every 10 minutes an Australian has a stroke, making it the largest cause of disability and death in Australia. That’s not all though, the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health warns a high-salt diet is also linked to a number of other health conditions such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones and worsening symptoms of asthma and Ménière’s disease.
We should aim to eat less than four grams of salt a day, (1600mg of sodium) and no more than six grams (2300mg).
However, most Aussies eat far more than that, with the George Institute of Global Health suggesting our average intake is around nine grams a day, more than double what it should be. It’s no secret the majority of the salt we eat comes from processed foods – including bread, cheese, biscuits, pre-made stocks, bottled sauces and packet seasonings. Then we often add a little more with the salt shaker in cooking and at the dinner table.
But, recent studies suggest if we all cut just three grams of salt from our diets a day, there would be up to 6000 less deaths in Australia each year.
There’s also many new ‘gourmet’ salts cropping up, often packaged with claims that they’re ‘natural’, ‘contain minerals’, or offer a ‘tastier and healthier alternative’ to table salt.
However, research has proven that gourmet rock and sea salt contain the same amount of sodium as ordinary table salt.
Yet many of us are being misled. In fact, one study found 24 per cent of adults believe gourmet salts are healthier and 39 per cent of us believe them to be more natural.
In fact, just the opposite is more often true. Because gourmet salts tend to have much larger crystals we’re more inclined to use too much.
The good news is we can actually retrain our palate. By eating less salty flavours our palate becomes more sensitive and better able to appreciate other flavours.
Suddenly you can discover that salt can be the taste equivalent of a loud noise, drowning out the softer, subtler flavours in our food. Try giving your tastebuds a break from salt and a world of flavours will open up. You’ll also enjoy better blood pressure and a reduced risk of health problems.
Are gourmet salts a lesser evil?
Myth 1: Gourmet salts contain less sodium
Like table salt, most gourmet salts are 100 per cent sodium chloride, so they’ll have exactly the same effect.
Myth 2: They have minerals essential for good health
No salt is a good source of essential minerals. You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a balanced diet.
Myth 3: They’re good for you because they’re natural
All salts can be deemed ‘natural’, but that doesn’t make them healthy.
Myth 4: They taste better, so you use less
If anything, you could end up using more of the gourmet salt as it often has a larger crystal size.
How much salt is too much?
The optimal amount
1–2g, or about 1/2 teaspoon, of salt is all our body needs in a day.
The suggested limit
4g, or 1 teaspoon, is the amount we should try to stick to each day.
The upper limit
6g, or 1 1/2 teaspoons, is the upper limit of what we should be eating in a day.
What we’re eating now
9g, or about 2 teaspoons, is what most of us are eating now.
Where salt sneaks in to your day
75 per cent from processed and restaurant foods
15 per cent added during cooking and at the table
10 per cent occur naturally in foods
A plain bread roll may give you as much as quarter of your recommended daily salt intake.
Even if you don’t use the salt shaker on your food or in your cooking you may still be getting too much. It is a surprising part of many of our foods.
So, it’s best to look for packaged foods that have less than 120mg sodium per 100g.
8 high-salt sources you don’t expect
Even without adding salt, our daily diet can be high in salt from all manner of surprising, everyday sources, like these.
While salt is integral to the rising process in bread-making, the amount of sodium in different breads varies widely, so it pays to check the packaging and watch how many slices you’re having each day.
2. Ham, salami and deli meats
Most of these meats are high in salt. Even those labelled ‘reduced-salt’ still pack a punch.
3. Canned soups
Canned soup is comforting when it’s cold outside, but often high in salt. Shop around, always check the label and compare sodium content per 100g to find the lowest salt option.
4. Ready-made meals
Those frozen and pre-made dinners may be light on effort but they’re heavy-hitters when it comes to your daily salt intake. Check the packaging and opt for low-salt versions.
5. Quick foods
Whether it’s instant noodles or a can of chickpeas, these shortcut foods are often high in salt. It pays to check the labels and choose the no-added-salt version where you can.
6. Breakfast cereals
Some classic breakfast cereals come with a rich helping of hidden salts – even when they don’t taste salty. Instead of assuming a cereal is a healthy, low-salt option, check the label to be sure.
7. Stir-fry sauces
The more you eat salt, the more you may find you need to tart up your meat and vegie dish with flavour-packed sauces, such as pasta sauces or
Asian meal bases or sauces, because without them food seems flavourless.
However, packet sauces are often sky-high in salt. Asian sauces like soy, fish, tamari or oyster can have up to one teaspoon of salt per tablespoon! Choose the reduced-salt options whenever you can, or try flavouring your dishes with herbs, spices and citrus instead.
Your typical store-bought stock powder or stock cubes can actually be almost 50 per cent salt! Good news though, there are now plenty of reduced-salt versions on the shelves, so make sure you make these your number one choice.
If you’ve got a smart phone, the Foodswitch app makes choosing lower-salt products easier while you’re shopping. Simply scan the barcode with your phone and it will show you if it’s a healthy option based on salt content but also fat, saturated fat and energy levels. Even better, it shows which brands might be a healthier choice.
Did you know?
We’re eating twice as much salt as the recommended limit, according to the George Institute of Global Health.
46 percent of adults who buy salt think it's worth paying extra for rock and sea salt.
Decreasing your salt intake by 25–35% could reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by 20%.
More than one in four Australians is likely to have high blood pressure.