Many people in Northern Ireland eat too much salt. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke. But a few simple steps can help you to cut your salt intake.
How much salt you should have in a day
Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day. That's around one full teaspoon. Children should eat less (see below for recommendations for babies and children).
You don't have to add salt to food to be eating too much - 75 per cent of the salt you eat is already in food when you buy it.
Foods that contain salt
The foods listed below are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often or have smaller amounts:
- gravy granules
- salted and dry roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- soy sauce
- stock cubes
Other foods that can be high in salt include:
- bread products such as crumpets, bagels and ciabatta
- pasta sauces
- ready meals
- tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces
- breakfast cereals
In these foods, the salt content can vary widely between different brands or varieties. That means you can cut down on salt by comparing brands, and choosing the one that is lower in salt.
Use food labels
To really cut down on the amount of salt you eat, you need to become aware of the salt that is already in the food you buy, and choose lower salt options.
Nutrition labels on food packaging now make this a lot easier. Nutritional information labels are usually on the back of the packaging. Look at the figure for salt per 100g:
- high is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
- low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
Many foods also display information on the salt content on the front of the packaging. This may show the salt content as a per cent of your Guideline Daily Amount, or display a traffic light to show whether the food is low, medium or high in salt.
Use traffic light labels to help you choose healthier foods. These show if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Red means the food is high in that nutrient.
Keep an eye on how often you choose these foods and how much you eat. Amber means the food is neither high nor low in that nutrient. Ambers help balance your diet. Green means the food is low in that nutrient. The more green, the healthier the choice.
Salt and sodium
Salt is also called sodium chloride. Sometimes, food labels may list salt as sodium. But there is a simple way to work out how much salt you are eating from the sodium figure:
- salt = sodium x 2.5
Babies, children and salt
Babies and children under 11 should have less salt than adults.
Babies under a year old need less than 1g of salt a day, as their kidneys can’t cope with more. If a baby is breastfed, he or she will get the right amount of salt from breast milk. Formula milk contains a similar amount.
Never add salt to your baby’s milk or food, and don’t give food that isn’t specifically for babies as it’s often too high in salt.
The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:
- one to three years - 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
- four to six years - 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
- seven to 10 years - 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
- 11 years and over - 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)