Posted in Food & Health

Salt – What’s up with the white stuff?

Somewhere at the back of our minds there’s an awareness that too much salt is bad for us but how much is too much and how can you measure it?
Sea Salt Flakes

I honestly didn’t think salt intake was an issue for me until last September when I took part in a discussion on the subject (at the French Food & Wine Festival in On The Pig’s Back, Douglas.)  I assumed that because I wasn’t a heavy sprinkler at the dinner table I was fine.  When reading the labels on packets of cereal etc. it was always the sugar content that I focussed on when deciding whether or not to buy it for the kids and historically I disregarded the information on salt.

When you look at the salt figures on the packet they always look small by comparison to the other contents and therefore they are dismissed.  Sometimes they are deceptively small.  I always thought that I was very clever knowing that Sodium was in fact Salt but what I didn’t know was that you need to multiply the Sodium figure by 2.5 to work out the salt content.  Now that to me as a consumer is misleading and simply wrong.   Besides, who’s running around the supermarket with their calculator in tow?

I had the opportunity to attend ‘Salt: Hard to Shake’, a Safefood conference on the study conducted into ‘Dietary salt intake and related risk factors in the Irish population’ in November 2010.

The key fact that I took away from this conference is that 80% of our salt intake is from processed foods.

The evidence from the findings of the study is also emphatic.  Reduce salt = reduce blood pressure.

As I ate my innocent looking slice of wholegrain toast this morning, out of dawdlement I looked at the information on the pack.  Each slice contains 0.4g of salt.  I physiologically only need 4g of salt per day so that one slice of toast gave me 10% of that, and that’s not to mention the butter.  The population goal is 6g of salt per day (roughly a teaspoon) but there is a strong possibility that like the average consumer I am unwittingly ingesting 9g per day.

What makes the task of cutting back on salt hard is how that information is relayed on the pack.  First there’s the calculation issue, if it’s expressed as sodium then multiply it by 2.5.  Then what decision do you make based on that figure? e.g. the 0.4g salt per slice of bread.  How do you interpret what 0.4g means?
Again, I find the information on the packs unhelpful and misleading.  It might look useful to express the salt content as a percentage of your GDA – Guideline Daily Allowance.  But is that GDA for an adult or a child?  Is it calculated based on a portion size, which may vary in the case of cereal from 30g to 45g.  Are you really going to go home and weigh out your portion?

The only practical way that I can interpret the information on the pack is to firstly arm myself with the knowledge of what is high, medium and low content.  You can then use this figure to check the content per 100g and make your decision.
According to the UK Food Standards Agency:

High is 1.5g and above per 100g,

Medium is between 0.3g and 1.5g per 100g

Low is 0.3g and below.
Returning to the information on the side of my bread packaging it tells me that there is 1.1g of salt per 100g, so that would be considered on the high side of medium.
According to Safefood :
“A typical lunch of soup, a sandwich and a chocolate muffin can contain more than an adults’ recommended salt intake per day.”

For further information on the ‘Salt: Hard to Shake’ study see Safefood website.

A very useful guide called ‘The little book of salt’ is available at on the UK Food Standards Agency website.

Til next time, Sheila.