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All about salt
Eating too much salt over time can increase your risk of high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease.
A lot of the salt we eat is hidden – we may not even know we’re eating it. Currently, Australians are eating the maximum daily amount of salt just from the everyday foods they buy. This doesn’t include salt added at the table – so many people will be eating much more!
There’s salt in almost every food we eat, but the amount varies a lot. The main foods that contribute to our salt intake are everyday products like bread, breakfast cereals, processed meats, cheese, and savoury sauces like gravies.
One of the best ways to avoid salt is to make sure most of your diet is made up of fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and meat, fish, and poultry. These are naturally low in salt. When you do eat packaged foods, it’s important to read the label and choose lower salt foods.
How much to aim for
To reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease, we recommend adults eat less than 6 g of salt (2300 mg of sodium) a day. That’s about a teaspoon a day. This should be lower for children.
If you have high blood pressure, we recommend you reduce salt to 4 g (1600 mg sodium) per day. Talk with your doctor or health practitioner about what’s right for you.
Salt and sodium
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride – it’s the sodium that can be bad for your health. Food packages list sodium, usually in milligrams (mg), but how much salt is that?
How to convert salt to sodium: Multiply the grams of salt by 0.4 to get the amount of sodium in grams. Then multiply by 1000 to get the sodium in milligrams. 1 gram of salt equals 400 milligrams of sodium.
How to convert sodium to salt: Multiply amount of sodium in milligrams by 2.5 to get the milligrams of salt. Then divide by 1000 to get grams of salt.1 gram (1000 milligrams) of sodium equals about 2.5 grams of salt.
Check salt content on food labels
Use the nutrition panel on the back of the pack to find out how much salt is in a food product. Salt is listed as ‘sodium’. Use the ‘per 100 g’ column on the nutrition information panel to compare sodium of different brands of products.
Foods with less than 120 mg sodium per 100 g are considered low in salt.
Aim for foods with less than 400 mg per 100 g.
Look for foods labelled 'no added salt' or 'salt reduced', and foods with the Heart Foundation Tick as these will be a healthier choice compared with similar foods. While Tick products will contain less sodium than similar foods, they will not always have less than 120 mg per 100 g. Read more about using food labels
Ways to cut down on salt
Choose herbs and spices
You can easily get your daily requirements from the natural salts found in fresh foods. There is no need to add salt when cooking at home or at the dinner table. Rather than adding salt when you cook, use lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, or herbs and spices. Pepper, basil, lemon grass, ginger or garlic are healthy and provide a delicious flavour. Marinate fish and meat before cooking to give it more flavour.
Stock cubes, soy sauce, Asian-style sauces and condiments like tomato sauce and mayonnaise can all contribute to salt intake over the day. Choose lower salt varieties where possible.
Train your tastebuds
When you regularly eat salty foods, you can develop a taste for it. This is especially important for children, whose tastes are being trained for life.
The good news is you don’t have to cut out salt all at once. If you reduce gradually, your tastebuds will adjust in only a few weeks.
You’ll be surprised by how quickly you get used to the taste and notice all the other flavours that salt was hiding. You’ll find you don’t enjoy salty foods like you used to, so it’s a great chance to experiment with different flavours.
Check the food label
Reducing your salt intake can be as easy as switching brands. Look for foods labelled 'no added salt' or 'salt reduced', and foods with the Heart Foundation Tick. Use the ‘per 100g’ column of the nutrition information panel to choose lower sodium products.
A favourite for many, baked beans can be a nutritious snack, depending on which variety you choose. Did you know that just one serve of baked beans on toast can contain up to 63% of an adult’s daily maximum recommended salt intake? But this doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite snack – simply choosing low salt or no added salt baked beans can reduce this to just 17%. So it’s well worth making the switch.
Stick to fresh where possible
Include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, plain meat, poultry and fish, plain unsalted nuts and legumes and lentils in your diet. Try adding healthier options to your lunch box such as boiled eggs and salad, raw vegetable sticks with a reduced salt dip and fresh fruit pieces.
Know where your salt comes from
High levels of salt are often added to foods such as packet soups and sauces, pies, sausage rolls, sausages, processed meat, pizzas and frozen meals. So reduce the amount of these foods you eat. Try to limit takeaway and fast foods such as burgers, fried chicken and pizza.
Limiting salty snacks like chips, pretzels, crackers and dips, will also help cut down salt. Make healthy snacks convenient by having fresh fruit pre-chopped, keeping reduced fat yoghurt in the fridge, and unsalted nuts in the pantry.
Also keep in mind that if you eat a few salty foods over your day, it’s easy to find yourself over the recommended intake. For example, salt is found in bread, cheese and processed meats, which means a regular ham and cheese sandwich can pack a sodium punch. Just one sandwich can contribute almost 40% of the upper limit of salt for the day for an adult, and a whopping 70% for a child.
Choosing fresh foods, and lower salt versions of your favourite products all helps to lower the amount of salt you’re eating.