In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.

Cutting down on salt

In Australia, we consume much more salt that we need. Too much salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. By making some simple adjustments to your diet you can reduce your salt intake and help drop your risk of developing high blood pressure and other related health problems.

How does salt cause high blood pressure? 

Your body needs small amounts of salt as it helps regulate the amount of fluid in your body. This means the more salt you eat the more your blood vessels retain water. This extra water increases the volume of blood in your arteries, causing high blood pressure. High blood pressure makes blood vessels stiffer and less elastic. This can make blood pressure rise even more as blood pumps into rigid arteries that are unable to absorb the pressure the way healthier arteries can.

How much salt do I need? 

Even though you need some salt in your body, restricting salt intake has been proven to reduce blood pressure not only in people that already have high blood pressure but also in people with normal blood pressure. This means that watching your salt intake can potentially prevent high blood pressure as well as helping reduce it in those who already have it.

Not overdoing the salt also reduces your risk of developing other illnesses related to too much salt. This includes kidney problems (as the kidneys regulate the sodium in your body) and osteoporosis (as salt affects calcium levels in the body).

Australian guidelines suggest:

  • Adults aim to eat less than 2,300 mg (6 g of salt) a day, which is equivalent to about 1½ teaspoons of salt.
  • If you already have high blood pressure, you should aim for no more than 1,600 mg sodium (equivalent to 4 g salt) a day.

Remember, these amounts include salt from all sources — the salt we add at home to our cooking as well as salt already added to foods during the manufacturing process.

Salt in our diets 

You can get enough salt from the salt that occurs naturally in foods. However, salt is also commonly used and added to food for flavouring and as a preservative. In fact, about 75-80 percent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, rather than added in cooking or at the table.

Some common processed and/or packaged foods that can be high in salt include:

  • deli meat and sausages
  • pre-packaged sauces
  • packet soups
  • white bread
  • spreads
  • snack foods (potato chips, salted nuts)
  • baked beans and canned vegetables
  • pies, sausage rolls and pre-prepared meals.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, and the salt content of foods is listed on nutritional information panels as sodium:

  • A low-salt food is one with < 120 mg sodium / 100 g
  • Food with moderate amounts of salt have between 120-500mg sodium / 100g
  • A high-salt food is one with > 500mg sodium /100 g.

Don’t be fooled by marketing claims - sea salt, rock salt and vegetable salt are no better for your blood pressure than ordinary table salt. All varieties of salt contain sodium and can have the same effect on your health.

Simple ways to reduce salt intake 

Cutting salt out slowly can be a simple way to decrease your intake and give your taste buds a chance to adjust without sacrificing taste.

  • Choose fresh, unprocessed foods, including more vegetables and fruit, over processed and packaged foods
  • Go for ‘low salt’, ‘no added salt’ or ‘salt-free’ versions of common packaged foods where available
  • Use less salt in your cooking at home. Try replacing with other flavour boosters such as herbs, spices, fresh ginger, garlic, chilli, vinegars, citrus juices, or lemon and lime zest
  • Use less gravy mixes, garlic salt, stock powder, packaged stock and soy sauce
  • Don’t automatically add the amount of salt stated in recipes — try adding half or less. If a recipe includes other salty ingredients like stock powder, Asian sauces, olives, capers, anchovies, bacon, cheese, ham or smoked salmon, you shouldn’t need extra salt
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table, and don’t add salt to your food before you’ve even tasted it
  • Avoid salty snack foods such as bacon, deli meats (e.g. ham and salami), crisps, pizza and hot chips
  • Cut back on takeaway and fast foods
  • Read nutrition panels to look for foods that contain less salt. Remember that salt often turns up in unexpected places like sweet biscuits and breakfast cereals.

SaltSwitch 

To make it easier to find lower-salt options at the supermarket, try the SaltSwitch feature of the free FoodSwitch app that helps makes food labels easier to understand.

All you have to do is scan the barcode of a packaged product with your smartphone camera, and you’ll get immediate, traffic-light style nutritional information to let you know if the product is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) in salt, as well as saturated fat and sugar. The app also lists lower-salt options that may be healthier.

To find out more about SaltSwitch, check out www.bupa.com.au/foodswitch

Further information 

Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH)
www.awash.org.au

Dietitians Association of Australia
www.daa.asn.au

Sources 

Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH). Understanding labels [online]. [Accessed 13 May 2014] Available from: www.awash.org.au

Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). High blood pressure [online]. [Accessed 13 May 2014] Available from: www.daa.asn.au

Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Daily intake guide [online] [Accessed 13 May 2014] Available from: www.daa.asn.au

National Heart Foundation of Australia. Guide to management of hypertension 2008. Updated December 2010. Available from: www.heartfoundation.org.au

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Eat for health. Australian dietary guidelines: summary. Canberra: NHMRC, 2013.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice, 8th edition. Melbourne: RACGP, 2012.

State Government of Victoria. Better Health Channel. Salt [online]. [Last updated May 2014; accessed 13 May 2014]. Available from: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Last updated: 28 May 2014

Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.