Salt Awareness Week 8th-14th March

Student Wellbeing Champion and MRes student Georgie Sherrard has a particular interest in nutritional biology, disease and human physiology. Today, she talks to us about salt:

We all know we should be eating less salt, right? But have you ever tracked exactly how much you are taking in? Most people don’t realise they are consuming too much, with the average person in the UK eating around 8.1g of sodium per day. The professional advice is that we should be getting no more than 6g per day…so this week the Student Wellbeing Champions are encouraging you to really think about your intake.

We all need a certain amount of sodium in our diet as it plays a role in the regulation of fluid in the body. However, taking in too much salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure. As well as this being a causative factor in strokes and heart disease, having a persistently high blood pressure can cause increased anxiety, and a whole host of other unwanted symptoms.

75% of the sodium that we take in is from processed foods, which we all know we should be eating less of. It is found in foods such as ready meals, soups, sauces and stocks, bread and even cereal. It can be hidden in foods that don’t themselves taste salty, so it’s difficult to be aware of when you might be eating it.

Here are some tips for trying to reduce your intake and improve your health as a result:

  • Start by reading food labels – especially of the things you eat regularly. You might notice that something you wouldn’t have considered to be salty actually has a surprisingly high sodium content. Then maybe you can find a lower salt alternative, or reduce the amount of it that you eat.
  • The obvious way to cut down is to stop adding extra salt when cooking. It can take 3 weeks for taste buds to adjust, so if you regularly add a lot of salt to your cooking, cut down gradually over a number of weeks so that you don’t notice the change in taste so drastically. Find alternative ways to flavour food – black pepper, herbs, spices, chilli and lemon can all add intense flavour to cooking.
  • Download a tracker app such as Sodium Tracker, or a dietary analysis app like My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counter + which can give you a break down of all the main minerals in your diet, including sodium. To see it written down in black and white might be the motivation you need to change some of your eating habits.
  • Search online for ‘low-salt recipes’ and add some new dishes to your regular repertoire.
  • Up your intake of potassium. Consuming more potassium can have the opposite effect on blood pressure that excess sodium has, i.e. it can bring it down. Both minerals are important in helping the body to regulate fluid, and they therefore need to be consumed in the right balance. The diets of our Paleolithic ancestors would have included a potassium to sodium ratio of about 16:1. These days, on average, we take in about 1.3 times more sodium than potassium. So up your consumption of potassium-rich and sodium-poor foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, especially bananas, avocados, green leaves, oranges and black beans.
Check your labels for salt

With that in mind, here is a delicious recipe for a black bean and orange salad – but remember to leave out the added salt!!

For more information about salt and this year’s Salt Awareness Week campaign you can visit Action on Salt.