In our enthusiasm to talk about dietary factors that impact on weight control, salt is usually forgotten about. Yet a diet high in sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney stones, oedema and stroke. There are also links to gastric cancer and osteoporosis. We do need a little sodium in our diet, but with processed and packaged foods the average diet ends up with several fold times as much as we need.

Sodium is mostly present in our diets as salt. You might think then it’s all down to how much salt you add at the table to our meals. But in fact some 70% of the sodium in our diets comes from packaged and processed foods. So while limiting or cutting out added salt is a good thing to do, unless you start reading labels and deliberately choosing lower salt products you will not make much impact on your overall intake.

As an example, let’s look at a typical day of a person to see how salt can creep into a day. 

Breakfast – Cereal & Toast

1 cup cornflakes (312mg)

1 cup milk (96mg)

1 slice wholemeal toast (135mg)

1 smear of margarine (106mg)

and vegemite (720mg)


Morning Tea

1 slice of banana bread (249mg)

1 cappuccino (101mg)


Lunch – Ham & cheese salad sandwich

2 slices of ham (350mg)

2 slices of wholemeal bread (270mg)

1 slice of cheese (280mg)

mixed salad (6.5mg)

1 smear of margarine (106mg)


Pre-dinner snacks

Crackers, dip, cheese & olives  

10 seaweed rice crackers (116mg)

2 slices of vintage cheese (262mg)

¼ cup dip, cream cheese base (408mg)

4 stuffed olives (331mg)


Dinner: An omelette with a large salad

2 eggs (137mg)

1 slice of cheddar cheese (280mg)

2 slices prosciutto (1092mg)

6 mushrooms (5mg)

2 shakes sea salt to season (296mg)

mixed salad (6.5mg)


To put this amount in perspective, consider that the National Health and Medical Research Centre’s (NHMRC) advises that Australian adults should aim to consume no more than 4g of salt a day – that’s 1,600mg of sodium in order to prevent chronic disease and recommends not to exceed 2400mg a day. The diet outlined above far exceeds the maximum intake at a whopping 5631mg. In fact the average Australian consumes around eight or nine times more sodium than they need for good health.

Sodium is naturally occurring in many foods, but sodium has also been used for centuries as a way of preserving foods to prevent spoiling. It can also prevent the development of food-borne pathogens that often occur in cheese products, fermented foods and deli meats. In terms of food processing salt has also been used to bind certain ingredients together, to enhance colour and to function as a stabiliser. This allows products to last longer and look better; but at what cost to our body?

How can we reduce the amount of salt we consume?

  • Read product labels and choose low salt products where possible. Low salt products have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
  • Eat less processed food and more fresh food. Have sliced seasonal fruit and unsalted nuts as a snack and fill your dinner plate with plenty of vegetables and leafy salads.
  • Choose only one salty food that you may include in a dish, whether it be olives, feta, ham or smoked salmon, rather than a meal that contains several salty ingredients.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices to add flavour to meals. A handful of basil to pasta, rosemary to lamb or mint to a salad can really bring a meal to life.
  • Limit the amount of takeaway food you are consuming to once a week. Whether it be Asian or Greek, takeaway foods are similar to processed foods – the chefs want their foods to be tasty so they will add salt to enhance flavours.

So, be mindful of salt that is lurking in all of the foods you are eating and start to make a conscious effort to read labels and limit the amount of salt that you are adding at the dining table. Get creative in the kitchen and get your pallet used to tasting fresh unsalted flavours again.



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