How much salt do we eat in the UK and how can we eat less of it?

25th August 2023

How much salt we eat impacts our health.

Dr Laura Bardon from our Food and Nutrition National Bioscience Research Infrastructure explains how much salt we should be eating and how we can eat less of it without compromising on flavour.

“Too much salt in our diet can be dangerous. It can contribute to high blood pressure, risk of stroke, and the development of cardiovascular disease.

How much salt do we eat in the UK?

In the UK we consume too much salt. Data from the 2018/2019 national diet and nutrition survey tells us that the average daily salt intake for adults in the UK is 8.4g (9.2g for men and 7.6g for women) whilst the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition advises us to have no more than 6g per day. The 6g daily recommendation equates to approximately 1 teaspoon.

Three in ten adults in England have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the third largest risk factor for premature death and disability.

Often, we can be consuming too much salt before we even pick up the salt shaker at the table. Interestingly, the biggest sources of salt in our diet are bread, breakfast cereals, meat products and ready meals.

Whilst government reformulation schemes over the past 20 years have helped to reduce the salt content of some popular food categories, many foods we purchase are still high in salt.

How you can reduce your salt intake

A diagram. In the top left the Action On Salt logo. At the top of the diagram the text, "How much salt? Use the key below to work out if your food contains a high, medium or low amount of salt. Low = less than 0.30g, Medium = Between 0.30g and 1.50g, High = More than 1.50g, High, More than 1.5G

Check salt levels on food labels

Finding food low in salt can be confusing and difficult to navigate. When reading food labels at the supermarket, look out for the nutrition information displayed on the front of the pack. These follow a traffic light system with the green colour indicating the product is low in salt, orange colour indicating medium amounts of salt and red meaning the product is high in salt. This will help you get an idea of the amounts of foods with low, medium and high (green, amber and red) salt contents that you are consuming. You can also compare similar food products to see if there is a lower salt alternative you could purchase instead.

Using herbs and spices instead of salt

But what else can you do to lower your and your family’s salt intake?

Herbs and spices are a great way to infuse food with delicious flavour and as a bonus they can also be beneficial for our health.

Diets such as the Mediterranean diet which is abundant in herbs and spices have been linked to reduced inflammation, oxidative stress and presence of chronic diseases.

Specific herbs have been shown to have a variety of beneficial health effects.

Cinnamon and garlic have a role in reducing blood pressure. Spices that can help manage blood glucose include chilli, cinnamon, fenugreek, garlic, ginger and rosemary.

Several herbs and spices have been linked to reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including black pepper, chilli, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, rosemary and turmeric).

Plus some herbs, such as black pepper, chilli, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric have a role in reducing inflammation.

It has even been suggested that some herbs and spices may help with weight control too including black pepper, chilli, fenugreek, ginger and turmeric.

Cinnamon and turmeric have the added health benefit of a suggested role in neuroprotection.

Get to know your herbs and spices and learn which foods they pair best with, with this useful salt alternatives guide from the British Heart Foundation.

Not only do herbs and spices pack a flavour punch but they can also help you reduce your salt intake. Try replacing salt with a mixture of Mediterranean herbs (garlic, oregano, basil and black pepper) in your tomato sauces, with a Mexican rub (chilli, paprika, garlic and cumin) on your steak or get creative in the kitchen and come up with your own mixtures!”

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