Too much salt is bad for your health, it can lead to higher blood pressure, asthma and osteoporosis, to name just a few, and it’s important that you limit your intake.
But of course, no one wants boring and tasteless food, so here are the healthier ways to flavour your food.
It’s National Salt Awareness Week (March 16-22) and Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) want to highlight that evidence shows there’s an increased risk of raised blood pressure, heart disease and stroke if your diet is high in salt.
The recommended amount is no more than 6g a day – about a teaspoon – for adults, and less for children.
Cutting down on salt
And while some health experts suggest cutting down on breakfast cereals to cut salt, Dr Gill Jenkins wants us to rethink cutting these out:
"Breakfast cereals make a vital nutritional contribution to most people's diets and they are packed with vitamin and minerals. Unfortunately, there seem to be many myths regarding breakfast cereals including the levels of salt content. Some breakfast cereals do not contain any salt as an added ingredient. We can also see from various government figures our consumption of salt from breakfast cereals is very low and so breakfast cereals should not be blamed for increasing people’s salt consumption habits.
"In addition, research studies from the last 12 months confirm what has been demonstrated in many other studies (reviewed by Gibson & Gunn) - that both children and adults who consume ready-to-eat breakfast cereals have improved nutrient intakes compared with people who do not eat breakfast and those who eat other types of breakfast. They add to the body of evidence that suggests the benefit of breakfast cereal consumption in terms of improved nutrient intake. Also, other research has noted that people who eat breakfast cereal in the morning generally eat less fat, saturated fat and sugar, than those who do not and have better intakes of protein and important micronutrients, such as iron, vitamin D, B vitamins and calcium. So if you want to ensure a good dietary start to the day, packed with energy, fibre and some of the daily vital vitamins and minerals, eating a breakfast cereal in the morning is a great start."
Why is salt bad for you?
When we consume too much salt, the extra water that is stored inside our body and cells causes our blood pressure to rise. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure becomes. High blood pressure levels can place a huge strain on your heart; it can also affect your arteries, kidneys, and your brain. If high blood pressure levels are maintained for too long, it can lead to strokes, heart attacks, kidney disease, and even dementia.
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How you can cut the amount of salt you use in your diet
- Don’t put the salt shaker on the dinner table; you’ll add extra salt out of habit rather than tasting your food first.
- Eat less of these foods which are already high in salt, and when you do, don’t add more: bacon, ham, cheese, pickles, soy sauce and gravy granules.
- Begin reading food labels as a matter of course; sodium content is always listed on the label.
- Bin ready meals from your shopping list, they’re packed with heaps of salt to add flavour to lifeless meals. Instead, choose fresh ingredients that you can flavour with spices as opposed to salt.
- Choose spices or seasoning that don’t list sodium on their labels, i.e. choose garlic powder over garlic salt.
- Salt preference is an acquired taste that can be unlearned. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt, but once it’s done, it’s actually difficult to eat foods that taste too salty.
The healthier ways to flavour your food
It’s usually paired with salt, but pepper is equally delicious on its own, to add hot, spicy flavour with bitter, fruity notes. Black pepper is slightly more pungent, so it’s great with milder flavours such as chick. White pepper is hotter and goes well with beef. For added texture use crushed pepper rather than ground.
Spices provide far more flavour options than salt. Chilli flakes life fish dishes, while ginger goes well with pork. Cumin is great with beef and cinnamon gives lamb a delicious North African twist. Add a little at a time, and be careful when mixing strong spices as they may clash.
A squeeze of lemon or lime juice gives dishes an instant lift. Add to olive oil for a simple salad dressing, or sprinkle over white meat or fish, before or after cooking – it accentuates the flavour so you don’t need salt or heavy sauces either.
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Who needs salt, when you can add fresh, zingy flavours with hers. Use dried herbs at an early stage when cooking so they can infuse the dish. Fresh herbs are best added towards the end, to retain their taste and colour. Try chives with fish, mint with lamb and thyme with chicken. Here are some other suggestions too:
Use with beef, pork, most vegetables.
Use with chicken, pork, cauliflower, peas and in marinades.
Use with beef, chicken, pork, fish, green beans, beets and carrots.
Use with chicken, pork, eggplant and in dressing.
Use with fish, chicken, asparagus, beets, cabbage, cauliflower and in marinades.
Five surprising high-salt foods
- Bread – It was suggested by a study in 2011 that some loaves of bread may contain as much salt in each slice as a packet of crisps.
- Cereal – You’d expect some cereal brands to have high sugar content, but it’s been shown that there are also incredibly high levels of salt in many of the most popular varieties.
- Tinned soup – Considered by many to be a healthy lunch option, but maybe not. It’s been suggested by studies that some tinned soups can contain the same (or more) salt than two slices of takeaway pizza.
- Cheddar cheese – Already high in saturated fats, but 95% of cheese products were found to contain more salt per serving than a packet of ready salted crisps.
- Stock cubes – Who’d have guessed that this harmless little cube used to add flavour would be on this list, but some contain as much as 50% salt.