It’s worrying how much salt we’re eating. Yes, sodium (which is part of salt, but not all of it) is vital for controlling the amount of water we have in our bodies, but we’re currently eating about 50% more than we should be eating.
A 2003 study revealed that reducing salt intake to 6 grams a day (we’re currently at 9 grams a day) would decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease by 13% and 10%, respectively. In children, salt intake should be low anyway, as babies’ kidneys cannot handle large amounts of sodium.
How can I reduce my salt intake?
It’s not as simple as you think – for a start, any processed food will probably give you a lot of your 6 gram-daily limit. Always check the labels, and if you see salt or sodium levels indicated that could break that daily limit – put it back on the shelf.
If you’re using salt to flavor your food, then try to find other ways of flavoring it, such as herbs and spices. Dried herbs can be particularly useful as they keep the food tasty for a long time. For instance, dried mint can give your food a surprisingly peppery kick.
Try to avoid soy sauce, as this is particularly salty, and also pay closer attention to the salt content of the water that holds canned vegetables. Wash canned vegetables thoroughly to get rid of any excess salt. If you can, try to avoid them outright, and just go for the fresh or frozen varieties.
Watch your breakfast cereals (and your toast) as one simple slice of toast can give you about 10% of your daily salt intake! A ham sandwich for lunch can give you 20% just from the bread, and 25% from one slice of ham, so do be careful here.
What do I do if I’ve had too much salt
Don’t panic when you overdose on salt. You need a certain level of salt, so never cut it out of your diet completely. Low sodium levels can result in headaches, nausea and vomiting – and worse, muscle cramps.
At this year’s SuperBowl, Americans consumed 1.25 million chicken wings. If we ignore the fat content of these million wings, the salt consumed here is enormous. So what to do? For a start, drink plenty of water to flush the sodium out of your system – about 3 or 4 liters in one day is not always advised, but in the case of excessive salt intake, you have to flush your system with as much water as possible.
Next, eat some potassium-rich foods to balance it out such as leafy greens (spinach or kale). Kale might frighten off the amateur chef, but it’s one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and in the event of a salt ‘overdose’, it gets even better. Eat it with pasta – steam it to keep the vitamins in there.
Drink some tea with no milk and sugar; green tea and dandelion tea are excellent. Recent studies have shown that the longer you leave the tea bag in the warm water, the more anti-oxidants you release – leave it in for at least five minutes. Hot tea will have you sweating, and will help you burn excess calories.
As mentioned above, don’t exclude salt from your diet completely. Measure it, track it, assess it, and you’ll feel better over the long term. This short-term “shock” treatment for sodium overdose works fine, but long-term, you need to incorporate potassium-rich food with a balanced approach to sodium – and regular exercise.
About the Author: Julie Brealy runs Brealy Bootcamps, and is the longest-serving Bootcamp Instructor in the UK. She has made numerous appearances on BBC, and writes regularly as an expert for a number of national UK publications.