Sugar may be the most common “diet nasty”, but salt is a health risk factor that deserves equal attention. Too much sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure – a leading cause of heart attack and stroke – and people on both sides of the Tasman are eating far too much of it.
The World Health Organisation recommends a healthy adult eat no more than 2g of sodium a day; roughly as much sodium as you get in a teaspoon. The bad news is the average New Zealander eats about 3.5g of sodium a day, which is nearly two times the amount we should be consuming. Most of our sodium (between 75-80%) comes from processed foods, in particular bread, processed meat, sauces, cereal products and cereal-based dishes. The rest comes from salt we add to cooking (about 10%) and the sodium already present in food.
Reducing your salt intake has numerous health benefits. A study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found the health impact of a 15-25% reduction in sodium intake from processed foods in New Zealand and Australia would result in a 10% reduction in total burden of disease from stroke and a 12% reduction of the total burden of disease from heart attack.
Dave Monro, the New Zealand Heart Foundation’s food and nutrition manager, says there needs to be more noise about the importance of salt reduction. “We are probably going to struggle competing with sugar and saturated fat,” he admits. Monro adds that some food companies have made efforts to reduce salt levels in certain products including bread, breakfast cereals and processed meats. But more could be done, he asserts.
The easiest way to reduce your salt intake is to eat more fresh foods, cut back on processed foods and takeaways, and use other herbs, spices and seasonings instead of salt. Remember to read the packet of food you buy at the supermarket and try to purchase items with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.