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Ditch the salt for the sake of your heart

Research 19 Oct 2017
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Most people know that too much salt is not good for their health. But did you know that every year, high salt intake is linked with 1.65 million deaths around the world?

Salt really can be a killer. Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, one of the leading individual risk factors for cardivascular disease. However, the good news is that this is one risk factor you can reduce, by being conscious of what you eat and making a few small changes to your diet if necessary.

Hidden salt – and how to eat less of it

Most of the salt in our diets is 'hidden' in processed foods. Dr Carley Grimes, a researcher from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, and member of the Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH), says a big problem with hidden salt is that it tends to be in foods we don't suspect, such as bread; just two slices can contain 15% of the average person's recommended daily limit of salt, while a bread roll can be hiding up to 40% of it.

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Healthy adults should aim for less than 6g of salt – 1¼ teaspoons – per day, but anyone who already has high blood pressure should be aiming for less than 4g (¾ teaspoon) daily.

It's also important to remember when reading food labelling that salt and sodium are not the same; 1 teaspoon equals 5g of salt, but is 2000mg of sodium.

Dr Grimes advises anyone who wants to reduce their blood pressure to pay attention to the four key areas of their health they actually have some control over; their salt intake, alcohol consumption, having a healthy body weight and getting enough physical activity. You cannot control risk factors such as family history, ethnic background, ageing and menopause.

Taking control of your blood pressure

  • Visit your GP for a check-up, get your blood pressure measured and ask about your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, especially if you are on any medications
  • Aim for fresh food options in your work lunches; have a mix of vegetables with each meal
  • Avoid processed and take-away foods
  • Look at food labels before buying anything; aim for low-salt versions if available
  • Instead of salt, use herbs to flavour foods. Keep a stash of herbs at work so you don't reach for the salt.

Foods usually high in salt

  • Canned, salted, cured and prepared meats, poultry or fish such as salami, bacon, spam, sausages and deli meats
  • Crackers, savoury biscuits, salted peanuts, potato chips, flat breads
  • Some breakfast cereals, breads, bagels and mixed cereal products such as burritos, tacos and pizza bases
  • Frozen and pre-packaged/prepared meals
  • Tinned foods, marinades and readymade sauces.

You can find out more about salt in food at Unpack the Salt, a site created by VicHealth and the National Heart Foundation. Or read more about foods that influence heart health or read our tips on how to eat less salt.