Salt is a widely occurring mineral, and a natural part of our diet. However, many people nowadays consume far too much of it, and this leads to a range of risks for older people.
The British Heart Foundation says that “Eating too much salt may raise your blood pressure, and having high blood pressure increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. So to keep your heart healthy it’s important that you don’t eat too much salt each day.
Adults should eat less than 6 grams of salt each day – that’s about one teaspoon. This includes the salt that’s contained within ready-made foods like bread, as well as the salt you add during cooking and at the table.”
It’s easy to see how much salt you sprinkle on your food (and that should really be very little, or none at all) but the salt that’s hidden in foods you buy is harder to know about.
One simple rule: if the label shows content per 100 grams, then try to avoid anything with more than 1 gram of salt (alternatively expressed as 0.4 gram of sodium).
And beware of fast food meals, like a burger with fries, which typically contain 3 grams of salt, ie. half of the recommended daily maximum.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends a maximum of 6 grams of salt (2.3 grams of sodium) a day, and notes that Americans average more than this at 8.5 grams of salt (3.4 grams of sodium).
“Eating too much sodium puts Americans at risk for developing serious medical conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.”
They note that “the majority of the sodium Americans consume—more than 70%—is found in processed food and restaurant meals.”
They give guidance on diet choices to reduce salt intake, for example that processed foods “that contain 140 mg of sodium (230 mg of salt) or less per serving are defined as low sodium.”
Salt never gets a good news story, and here’s one typical of yet more bad news for salt lovers.
In March 2020, there was a report in “Science Translational Medicine” of some research that showed that adults put on a high salt diet (an extra 6 grams of salt each day, for seven days) had a reduced ability to fight disease. Certain immune cells called granulocytes had become less effective at combating bacteria.
So the lesson is that if you don’t moderate your salt intake, and remember that 6 grams is a maximum, not a recommended level, then you face extra risks of:
• high blood pressure
• heart disease
• reduced immune system
What do I do?
• I never sprinkle salt on anything, as I know there’s enough salt getting into me from processed and restaurant foods.
• With prepared or processed food, I read the label, and I try to avoid anything with more than 1% salt. For example, one type of curry sauce in my supermarket contains 5% salt, and another contains 2%. That’s the one I go for. When there is no labelling, it’s a matter of judgment of course, but there’s usually a lot of salt in cheese, bacon, pizza, as well as prepared meals without labels.
• I admit that I do still occasionally have takeaway curries, even though they are probably loaded with salt, as well as the other bad guys, sugar and saturated fat. But by occasionally, I mean now only about once a month.
• For snacks, I keep a stock of unsalted nuts, unsalted crisps, and dried fruit.
• With restaurant meals, there’s never much choice, with trying to be vegan, so I have to accept the one or two options on offer. All the same, when there is a choice, the likely salt content is one factor influencing my choice.
British Heart Foundation: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy-eating/salt
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/salt/pdfs/sodium_dietary_guidelines.pdf
Science Translational Medicine: https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/12/536/eaay3850
Link to my post on “Blood Pressure”
Link to my post on “Heart Disease”
Link to my post on “Stroke”