Salt certainly brings plenty of flavour to our foods, but can we, and are we, overdoing it on the salt front?
The chemical formula for table salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), and it’s the sodium that we typically talk about when it comes to salt. Sodium is an essential element in our bodies and is responsible for a number of biological functions, from blood volume and pressure, to fluid transfer and maintaining our pH balance. We typically obtain enough sodium in our diet, from the sodium that naturally occurs in whole foods like veggies or meat proteins.
In recent years the level of salt and sodium intake of most of the Western world has become a major health concern.
The WHO (the World Health Organisation) are calling for global dietary reductions of salt to less than 5g (2mg sodium) per day for adults, the equivalent of just less than 1 teaspoon per day. To put this in perspective, the average adult consumes 9-12g of salt per day.
Highly processed foods are a key reason for the increase in dietary sodium in the Western world today, having become a commonplace in our diets. During food processing high levels of sodium are added to help preserve the foods and super boost the flavour. Bread, processed meats, stock powders, premade sauces (particularly Asian styles that are soy or miso based), crackers and chips, brined foods and smoked foods are all typically high in sodium. Unprocessed foods do contain sodium naturally, such as fruits or meat products, however the concentration is significantly lower.
The health implications of a diet consistently high in sodium is high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and heart attacks. These cardiovascular diseases are the world’s biggest causes of death, and that’s also true right here in New Zealand. If there’s a history of these medical conditions in your family it’s even more important to be mindful of salt intake, and important to have regular blood pressure checks with your GP or health professional.
So how can we keep our sodium intake down?
- Follow a diet that uses mostly unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients – eating foods as close to their natural state as possible
- Be mindful of salt added to foods during cooking and when seasoning at the table
- Opt for reduced sodium or unsalted versions of foods e.g. butter, tomato sauce, canned goods
- Rinse brined foods well, such as chickpeas or lentils
- Check out the sodium level in some of your regularly purchased supermarket products (you can use the pyramid below to help you!)
This sodium pyramid can help you to decide whether the food you’re looking at is a high, moderate or low sodium food. The values are in relation to the information per 100g column on a nutrition information panel.
- Try to eat small volumes of high sodium foods at a time, and not often.
- Try to eat foods at the lower end of the moderate sodium range, and not all the time.
- Eat plenty of low sodium foods.
Note, this is simply a guide, and doesn’t account for the serving size of the foods you’re eating (e.g. you might be using much less than 100g of the food ingredient, or much more).
Did you know?
Potassium is a nutrient that works in tandem with sodium to regulate blood pressure. Where sodium increases blood pressure, potassium works to reduce blood pressure. Ensuring we have some potassium rich foods in our diet can help us to regulate our blood pressure. Fruits and veggies, particularly bananas, are good sources of potassium.
Lower salt snacks
We all love a salty snack, and we highly recommend giving these recipes a go! The advantage of making your own snacks means you can control the exact level of salt included in the recipe, thereby helping to reduce your sodium intake overall.
Super Seed Crackers
One of our favourite recipes here at Fresh Start are our super-seed crackers. Not only do they taste delicious, they look really impressive and are really easy to whip up!
Homemade Tortilla Chips
Homemade tortilla chips are another easy substitute that will be significantly lower in sodium than the ones you buy.
Meet the Nutritionist
Our in-house nutritionist Emma ‘Edamame’ was born and bred in mid Canterbury and has the health and wellbeing of Kiwis in mind at all times. As an NZ registered nutritionist (NZ Nutrition Society) with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Auckland, she makes sure we’re all getting our fresh dose of local veggies and our meals are full of nutritious substance – thanks for having our back Em (and our waistlines!). When it comes to New Zealand produce, Emma is a whizz, with fresh berries being her absolute fave. Intrigued to know what food this nutritionist couldn’t live without? Fresh fish and seafood, delivering on both flavour and nourishment. As well as ice cream, especially real fruit ice creams, in the summer time! Life’s all about a tasty balance, right?
NZ Stroke Foundation