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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, and the salt content of foods is listed on nutritional information panels as sodium:
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.
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.
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
Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH)
Dietitians Association of Australia
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
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