Diet and nutrition

How much salt should you eat per day?

Diet and Nutrition

1 April 2021

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Salt has been used for centuries to preserve, flavour and season food but, as tasty as it is, too much salt can be bad for your health.

According to The Health Survey England 2018, 30% of men and 26% of women have high blood pressure and consuming too much salt is a key contributory factor.[1]  A ‘high salt’ diet disrupts the natural balance of sodium in the body and, as blood pressure rises, it increases the risk of other health problems such as heart disease and stroke. If you already have high blood pressure, reducing salt intake is a good way of lowering it. It’s all about moderation, salt is not bad in the right amounts, in fact, we have a daily essential requirement for a certain amount of salt in our diet.

So how much salt is good for you and how can you get the balance right?

What is salt and why do we need it?

Salt, or sodium chloride, is made up of two minerals – sodium and chloride. These two minerals are needed by your body as they play various roles.

Sodium is responsible for regulating body water content and electrolyte balance and the control of sodium levels depends on a balance between sodium excretion and absorption by the kidneys, which is regulated by nerves and hormones.

Sodium is also necessary to help the absorption of certain nutrients and water from the gut.

Daily recommended salt intake for adults

According to the NHS, the maximum healthy intake of salt is 6g per day – about one full teaspoon.[2] But much of the salt we consume has been added to everyday foods, such as bread, breakfast cereal or ready meals.

Foods high in salt include: Anchovies, bacon, cheese, gravy granules/stock cubes, ham, salami, salted and dry roasted nuts, smoked fish and meat, soy sauce and yeast extract. Other food items which may contain a lot of salt are crisps, pasta sauces, sausages and pizza.

Cooking from scratch will help you to control the amount of salt you consume.

Daily salt intake for children

A child’s daily recommended amount of salt depends on their age.

  • 1 to 3 years: 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
  • 4 to 6 years: 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
  • 7 to 10 years: 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
  • 11 years and over: 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)

Babies under a year old need only up to 1g of salt daily, as their kidneys can’t cope with more. Salt shouldn’t be added to baby’s food or milk; both breast milk and formula milk provide the right amount of salt.

How to reduce your salt intake

One easy way to eat less salt is to stop adding it to food or cooking. Natural salts are already in foods such as vegetables, meat and fish. For increased taste, try adding other flavourings such as herbs, spices or balsamic vinegar.

Cutting back on added salt is only a small part of the solution. To really cut down, you need to be aware of the salt already in the everyday foods you buy and choose those with a lower salt content.

Look at the nutritional information on pre-packed foods to find the amount of salt per 100g.

  • High is more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) – the label may display a red traffic light.
  • Low is 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium) – the label may display a green traffic light.
  • If the amount of salt per 100g is between 0.3g and 1.5g, that’s a medium level and the packaging may display an amber traffic light.

Don’t be fooled into buying costly rock or sea salt instead of table salt, as it’s no healthier. According to research by the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (now Action on Salt), there’s no difference in the chemical content and they both contain the same amount – almost 100 per cent – of sodium chloride.[3]

Salt levels and hot weather

When travelling in hot countries or exercising on a sunny day, you don’t need to consume extra salt, despite some salt being lost through sweating. The body is able to regulate the amount lost and balance it with the amount absorbed from a normal diet.

Occasionally, a little extra salt may be required. For example, fatigue during hot weather exercise is caused by lack of water, salt, sugar or calories. If you’re exercising for more than two hours in hot weather, avoid getting dehydrated by drinking one or two cups of fluid hourly and eat a salty snack, such as peanuts, to help replenish salt.

Do you have a concern about your eating habits? Our experts are on hand to help you with all your health questions.

Further reading

World Action on Salt, Sugar and Health - www.worldactiononsalt.com
Food Standards Agency - www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/salt
Consensus Action on Salt and Health - www.actiononsalt.org.uk 
Dehydration - are you at risk? – AXA Health

References

[1] NHS Digital, December 2019, Health Survey for England 2018 (Accessed 1 April 2021) 

[2] NHS, March 2021, Salt the Facts (Accessed 1 April 2021) 

[3] BBC News Health, November 2011, Sea salt health claims 'flawed' (Accessed 1 April 2021)

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