Dissolving Your Salt Intake

Salt graphic

When it comes to what you put in your body, healthcare professionals offer a lot of advice; sugar intake, the dangers of smoking, excessive alcohol, processed food and trans fats, just to name a few.

It’s all extremely important and should be taken seriously by all of us.

However, there’s one part of our diets that can get overshadowed, or even ignored – and it shouldn’t – which is salt.

Salt intake can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, aka hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems, osteoporosis and some types of cancer.

That’s why the experts at Complete Care Pharmacy are explaining what you should know about salt in your diet

We cover

  • What a diet high in sodium can do to your body
  • What salt can do to your body
  • How much salt is too much?
  • Some high-salt foods you may not be aware of
  • Ways to reduce your salt intake

The basics of a high-salt diet

A high-salt diet means eating too much salt. Salt is in lots of foods, like snacks, ready meals and even bread.

The medical or technical term for a high-salt diet is “hypernatremia”.

However, it’s important to note that hypernatremia specifically refers to elevated levels of sodium in the blood.

FYI: Salt is a compound that contains sodium, but not all sodium comes from salt. When we talk about sodium intake, we’re typically referring to the amount of sodium in salt and other sources of sodium, such as processed foods and additives.

  • Salt: Aka, sodium chloride (NaCl), is a compound made up of two elements: sodium and chloride.
  • Sodium: Sodium is a chemical element (symbol Na) found in many foods and beverages.

What a diet high in sodium can do to your body

When you eat too much salt, it can make your body hold onto water, which can in turn make your blood pressure go up.

High blood pressure isn’t good because it can lead to things like heart attacks and strokes.

Too much salt can also damage your kidneys and bones over time, and your kidneys are responsible for removing waste products from your body, an extremely important job. Compromising kidney function can have far-reaching consequences for overall health.

High salt intake may weaken bones by increasing the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, potentially contributing to osteoporosis.

It’s important to watch how much salt you eat and try to cut down on salty foods.

Salty food

How much salt is too much?

Too much salt is generally considered to be more than 5 grams per day, which is roughly equivalent to about one teaspoon.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that Australian adults should aim to consume no more than one teaspoon (5 grams) of salt a day (or 2,000mg of sodium a day) in order to prevent chronic disease.

However, it can be hard to know exactly how much sodium or salt you’re consuming, unless you read the labels of the food you eat and record how much of it you consume – probably not something you do regularly.

Some high-salt foods you may not be aware of

Some typical foods and their sodium content:

  • Chicken Breast: 50-100 mg
  • Bread (1 slice): 150-200 mg
  • Potato Chips (20 grams): 150-200 mg
  • Breakfast Cereal (1 cup): 100-300 mg
  • Canned Beans (1/2 cup): 300-500 mg
  • Deli Meat (1 slice): 300-600 mg
  • Pizza (1 slice): 600-800 mg
  • Frozen Dinner (1 serving): 500-800 mg
  • Cheeseburger (average): 700-1000 mg
  • Canned Soup (1 cup): 800-1200 mg

A few extremes:

  • Instant ramen noodles: up to 1,760 mg
  • Soy sauce: 5,493 mg (per 100 grams)
  • Bacon (pan fried): 1,717 mg (per 100 grams)

Remember, these numbers are just a guide, so always look at the label. Sodium levels differ per brand, type, flavour, etc.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see that a few slices of pizza or sandwiches with deli meats for example can easily total your daily recommended sodium intake.

Don’t let sauces go unnoticed.

Sauces can contain high amounts of sodium turning a healthy meal into a false friend.

Examples include:

  • Tomato sauce / ketchup: 150-300 mg per tablespoon
  • Mayonnaise: 70-125 mg per tablespoon
  • BBQ sauce: 200-350 mg per tablespoon
  • Mustard: 50-100 mg per tablespoon
  • Caesar salad dressing: 200-400 mg per 2 tablespoons (varies widely by brand)
  • Hot sauce: 100-300 mg per teaspoon (varies widely by brand)

Please note that these values are approximate and can vary depending on the brand and specific recipe of each sauce.

Ways to reduce your salt intake

Check labels when you can
Look out for high salt content on food packaging in the supermarket and choose options labelled “low sodium” or “no added salt” whenever possible.

It can be tough if you’re eating out or someone else has cooked for you, but ensuring your home has low-salt options is a great way to cut down.

Cook at home more often
Prepare meals at home using fresh ingredients rather than relying on pre-packaged or processed foods. This gives you more control over the amount of salt you add to your meals.

As an added bonus, cooking at home is nearly always much cheaper than eating out, so expect a healthier bank account and body.

Beware of sauces
Many sauces and condiments are loaded with hidden salt as we mentioned above. Check the labels and opt for low-sodium versions.

Better yet, make your own sauces using fresh ingredients to control the amount of salt you consume.

Limit salty snacks and be mindful when dining out
Cut down on chips, salted nuts and other salty snacks, we all know what they are. Opt for healthier alternatives like fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, or air-popped popcorn.

When eating out or ordering food, ask for sauces and dressings on the side so you can control how much you use. Avoid adding extra salt at the table and choose dishes with lower salt options, for example, sides that aren’t fries/chips.

Beware of alcohol and salty snacks
Consuming alcohol and salty snacks together can lead to much more urine production and dehydration.

Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing the body to lose more water through urine, while salty snacks can further dehydrate you by increasing your need for water to maintain balance.

So why all the attention on salt?

13 – 19 May is World Salt Awareness Week, which, as per its name, shines a spotlight on salt intake.

As World Action on Salt points out, reducing salt in our diets is one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce our blood pressure and improve our health.

What we don’t often realise is just how much salt we are eating because most of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy.

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