First thing’s first – everyone needs salt in their diet and the human body simply can’t function properly without it. Salt is required to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibres (including those in the heart and blood vessels) and maintain optimum fluid balance. But the fact of the matter is, most people are eating way too much of it due to the ease and accessibility of highly processed, packaged foods. This can result in fluid retention, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart and kidney disease as well as stroke further down the track.
As it turns out, the average Australian is consuming 9.6 grams of salt each day, nearly double the World Health Organisation’s maximum daily recommendation of 5 grams, so health experts are calling on Aussies to be more aware of how much salt we are actually consuming on a daily basis.
Seeing as it’s World Salt Awareness Week (yes, it’s a thing!) we asked dietitian Susie Burrell to give us the lowdown on the salty stuff, starting with knowing the difference between salt and sodium and how we can make sense of it on food labels:
“Sodium is one part of salt, the other being chloride,” Burrell explains. “Food labels only specify the amount of sodium as this is the compound that has the most significant effect on a number of body systems. Put most simply, the sodium proportion of salt is 40%, so to calculate salt in grams based on sodium, you need to divide it by 400. For example 2000mg of sodium = 5g of salt. Ideally, we want to consume less than 2000mg per day of sodium and less than 5g of salt. For this reason, any food over 400mg of sodium per serve is relatively high in sodium.”
Okay, so now that we have that sorted, here’s a list of the main culprits when it comes to high salt foods and some healthier swaps you can make to help lower your salt intake:
Some noodle bowls can contain more than 2000mg of sodium in a single bowl, mostly thanks to the little seasoning sachet which can contain a number of different types of salts and flavours. Swap: 2 minute noodles for hokkien noodles. Look for flat rice noodles or hokkien options for stir fries and Asian meals.
While wraps are often considered a healthier choice, a report by the University of Newcastle found that some wraps can contain more than 500-600mg of sodium in a single wrap. For this reason, to make a healthy wrap choice look for brands that contain less than 600mg of sodium per 100g. Opt for: Helga’s Traditional White wraps contain just 1.6g of salt per serve (430mg sodium per 100g).
A single tablespoon of soy sauce can contain more than 1200mg of sodium, which is the reason you may feel particularly thirsty and bloated after your favourite Asian feast or a round at the sushi train. Swap: If you love Asian-style cuisine, one of the best swaps you can make is to choose chilli sauce instead – it contains just 0.5g of salt.
Often a single food sachet can contain very few calories, but to give the mix some flavour, they are often packed with salts and can contain 600-800mg of sodium in a single packet. Instead: Make your own soup with a salt-free stock found in supermarkets.
All processed meats contain added salt to help preserve and flavour them. Swap: Ham for turkey breast. A single slice of ham has more than 1g of salt. If you enjoy meat on your sandwich or wrap, a lower salt option is to cook fresh chicken or turkey breast, which contain very little salt naturally.