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03rd April 2016

We could do better on salt

With such a strong media focus on sugars recently, we may forget there are other nutrients that need to be reduced, because consuming too much has adverse health effects. What about salt for example?

Scientific research has established a relationship between high salt intake and risk of high blood pressure or hypertension, a well-established risk factor for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, and it is estimated that in England about one in every three people who have high blood pressure don’t know it.

The maximum recommended salt intake for adults in the UK is 6g 

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in 2003 recommended a target reduction in the average salt intake of the population to no more than 6g per day. This was adopted by the UK government as the recommended maximum salt intake for adults and children aged 11 years and over.

How much salt do we eat?

Many of us in the UK eat more salt than the maximum recommendation. And it is not just adding salt to food at table or cooking that results in overconsumption. The majority of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, bacon, ham, soups and sauces.

Public Health England this month has revealed that the average salt consumption (based on urinary sodium excretion)  for adults in 2014 was 8.0 grams a day, a drop from the average of 8.5 grams in 2011 and 8.8 grams in 2005/06.

Salt is the main source of sodium in the UK diet and estimation of intake from urine is more reliable than through dietary assessment because it is difficult to quantify salt that is added in cooking and at the table.

Trends in salt consumption

The PHE study suggests that adults in England have cut their average salt consumption by nearly a gram in the last decade. This can be attributed in part to voluntary reformulation within the food industry, where many manufacturers and retailers have significantly reduced salt levels in everyday foods.

But at 8g per day, our salt intake is still around a third higher than the recommended daily maximum. A cut in average salt consumption from 8g to 6g a day could prevent more than 8,000 premature deaths a year and could save the NHS more than £570 million a year.

Salt intake

PHE data has given us an insight into adult salt intake, but as the data relates to 19-64 year olds we cannot be clear whether average intakes would be applicable specifically to care home residents.

Menus in care homes will typically feature soft and moist dishes to assist those that may have difficulty in chewing and swallowing. Yet such dishes can have a high salt content because of the use of high salt ingredients such as sauces, stock cubes and gravy.

Some catering tips to reduce salt could include:

  • Use measuring equipment to measure exact salt quantities.
  • Replace salt in recipes with herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice.
  • Don’t add salt if using ingredients high in salt e.g. soy sauce, stock cubes. Use reduced salt varieties where possible.
  • Reduce the salt added in all recipes.
  • Read food labels to help select lower salt ingredients.
  • Use unsalted water when boiling vegetables and starchy foods such as pasta, noodles, rice and potatoes.

Salt reduction is an important public health initiative – this should be reflected in the foods we provide service users.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all. Read more

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