Salt. Tasty, delicious salt. This condiment is the cornerstone for many beginners in the kitchen, and the addiction of many junk food enthusiasts. However, given the health dangers associated with its elevated consumption, should we be considering healthier alternatives?
The NHS recommends a maximum consumption of one teaspoon (6g) of salt a day. On average however, people in the UK eat 8.1g a day, surpassing the recommended limit by over a third. Substantially, salt raises blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart diseases and strokes. This is because salt retains water in the system, which in turn leads to higher pressure in the blood. According to the WHO managing salt intake by sticking to the recommended amount is as important as quitting smoking, in terms of reducing risks of heart diseases. Therefore, with heart diseases being the second most common cause of death in the UK, after dementia, awareness in salt consumption becomes essential.
It might be hard to identify our daily consumption of salt, because it is found in our food in two main forms: table salt or sodium. Calculating the amount of salt from sodium can be tedious: 1g of sodium per 100g is 2.5 grams of salt per 100g. However, given how common colour coded labels have become, it is easier than ever to detect which foods are higher in salt. Without having to count each gram, common sense should take over: eat less and more sparingly of the high sodium foods, and more of the lower sodium ones. As good as crisps taste, they are probably not the best option for someone looking to manage their blood pressure. Most of the salt consumed is likely to come from junk food, and not from added condiment like table salt: according to the Independent, “one in four British people can only cook three recipes”, meaning that either people always eat the same meals, or most of them buy ready-made meals.
That being said, we should not aim to completely eliminate salt from our diet. Rather, to drastically reduce its use. This may be difficult at first: being used to foods high in salt, anything else will taste bland. However, this is not going to be a long lasting condition: as reported by the BBC, “nutritionist Fiona Hunter says it takes around four weeks to reset your taste for salt”. Therefore, a 4-weeks low sodium diet might be helpful in terms of learning to live without less salt. Instead, a much better solution could be to substitute salt with spices and herbs. Adding things like rosemary, basil or chilli instead of salt to your recipes is granted to not only improve blood pressure, but to also to make the process of cooking much more interesting and creative. A pinch of salt helps bring out the flavour, but it cannot substitute it when it’s not there in the first place.
However, beware of food myths. Though it may look like adding salt to your pasta water will ruin attempts at a low sodium life, it should be remembered that only 3% of the salt added in the water is actually absorbed by the pasta. So please, as a protector of proper pasta preparation, salt your water.
Last modified: 12th March 2020