We owe a lot to salt. In fact, many, many years ago it was a source of conflict, as nations fought for access to trade in salt. They had already realised that salt was essential in preserving foods, both meat and vegetables. More recently, even though salt is now cheap and plentiful, it can still cause conflict in the pages of medical journals, the media and among “experts”.

Although, they do agree about one thing – we eat far too much salt and our consumption has a negative effect on health. Current recommendations suggest 6g of salt, halving the amount for people who have high blood pressure or are at significant risk of developing it. During the last decade, the extensive research carried out on the health effects of excess salt clearly points to it causing harm.

The big challenge is how to cut back? Most of our salt comes from processed foods, such as ready meals, sliced bread, crackers, tinned and frozen foods, breakfast cereals, cheese and, of course, eating out. Reducing our salt intake would mean a much-needed wholesale change in how the food industry produces the food we eat, and they may be reluctant. After all, salt is a cheap additive that enhances flavour. It makes meat retain water, adding weight, so we pay more. Salt also makes us thirsty, and is one reason we might buy more soft drinks. There are many food companies, however, that have already shown that it is possible to make modest to significant cutbacks in sodium content without sacrificing taste.

Salt 101

Salt is essential for:

  • the transmission of nerve impulses and the contraction of muscles
  • maintaining a proper fluid balance in and around cells (maintaining blood pressure)

It takes very little sodium to accomplish these tasks. Too little sodium and the kidneys hold onto water (losing weight is then more difficult due to water retention). Too much salt, and the kidneys try to flush out the excess by making more urine, or making it saltier. For most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium and over time, the extra work and pressure can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke. Research has also shown that too much salt is even associated with stomach cancer and osteoporosis.

Sources of Salt

The top food sources of sodium based on the combination of sodium content and frequency of consumption, are pizza, white bread, cheese, hot dogs and spaghetti bolognese.

You might also find it in something as seemingly unsalty as a bowl of Raisin Bran flakes that has 354 milligrams of sodium, or 24 percent of your recommended daily allowance. The recommended portion sizes on food labels are usually smaller than you might typically eat, so if you eat 15 crisps instead of the serving size of 10, for example, you will be consuming about 400 milligrams of sodium, or 27 percent of your recommended daily alllowance.

Restaurant meals can be even worse, in part due to their larger portion sizes and the fact that one dish may combine several high-sodium foods.

Taking Action: How to Cut Back on Salt

It’s clear that an abundance of salt in our food is a silent killer. So how do we cut back? Doing so will take a concerted effort between individuals, health professionals, food companies, food service operators and governments, but we will focus here on what YOU can do and it requires on two steps:

  1. Cutting back on processed foods.
  2. Choosing more fresh foods.

The second step is really important because we are so trained to reduce salt that we sometimes forget to look at the other half of the equation: getting enough potassium. Potassium is a mineral that can counteract the damaging effect of sodium.

The recommended daily allowance for potassium for a healthy adult is 4,700 mg. Here is a list of top high-potassium foods and you will be surprised by how far down the list bananas are.

FoodPotassium Content
Potato, 1 medium952 mg
Tinned Tomatoes, 1 cup811 mg
White beans, canned, 1/2 cup595 mg
Sweet potato, 1 medium542 mg
Avocado, 1/2507 mg
Milk, goat’s, 1 cup498 mg
Soybeans, 1/2 cup485 mg
Beetroot, 1 cup raw442 mg
Apricot, 1 cup sliced427 mg
Tomato, 1 cup sliced or chopped427 mg
Banana, 1 medium422 mg
Carrot, 1 cup sliced390 mg
Corn, 1 cup whole kernels389 mg
Butterbeans, canned, 1/2 cup378 mg
Pinto beans, cooked, 1/2 cup373 mg
Milk, skimmed cow’s, 1 cup366 mg
Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup366 mg
Mushrooms, 1 cup sliced323 mg
Red kidney beans, canned, 1/2 cup304 mg

Before you reach for a potato, which might not be on your allowed food list at the moment, weight loss is still your number one goal! Your current meal plan has been carefully designed to have a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals, such as salt and potassium, calorie intake and food combinations, while achieving weight loss. Stick to your plan and it all will fall into place!

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