How much salt per day is too much? Simple steps to control the amount you eat

Author: Heather Russell

Read Time:   |  10th August 2022

Ever wondered 'how much salt per day is too much?'. Vegan dietician Heather Russell guides you through a few simple steps to control the amount of salt in your diet to prevent it causing any health problems

Did you know that salt (or sodium) intakes exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit across the globe?1

I’m going to outline how salt affects our health plus reveal simple steps we can take to become more aware of our intake and enjoy low-salt foods.

How much salt should I eat per day?

In the UK, the recommended limit for adult salt intake is 6g per day2.

Additionally, the NHS recommends that children aged 4 to 6 eat no more than 3g of salt a day. And for children ages 1 to 3 years old, their daily intake should be no more than 2g.

Babies under 1 should have less than 1g of salt per day as their kidneys are not fully developed and are unable to process it properly.

Sodium and blood pressure

According to Blood Pressure UK, consuming too much sodium is the single biggest cause of high blood pressure, which affects around a third of adults in the UK3. On the flip side, we can reduce our blood pressure by cutting down on salt and it might only take a few weeks to see results.

This is important because high blood pressure can put extra strain on our hearts and damage our blood vessels, increasing our risk of health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and some types of dementia4.

High-salt vegan foods

With the rise of veganism, more brands are releasing on-the-go and easy plant-based foods. Like most ready meals and on-the-go foods, these tend to be higher in sodium.

Vegan foods that are high in salt include:

  • Crisps
  • Bread
  • Soy sauce
  • Yeast extract
  • Stock cubes
  • Pasta sauces
  • Vegan cheese
  • Ready-made sandwiches
  • Tomato sauce and other condiments
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pizza

We recommend following a whole food plant-based diet to reduce your sodium intake

credit: Jonathan Knowles/ Getty Images

credit: Jonathan Knowles/ Getty Images

Checking nutrition labels

This is a valuable skill because most of the sodium we eat is already present in the ready-made foods we buy and it’s important to compare products. A high amount of salt is 1.5g or more per 100g (highlighted in red on the front of the packaging) and 0.3g or less per 100g is a low amount.

We can cut down on sodium by limiting our use of high-salt products and looking for lower salt options. For example, you might be able to switch to reduced salt yeast extract and reduced salt soy sauce. Remember those small reductions can add up to make a big difference.

Also, bear in mind that our taste preferences are flexible, but it might take a few weeks to get used to the new taste.

Most of the sodium we eat is already present in the ready-made foods so it's important to check the labels. Credit: d3sign/Getty images

Most of the sodium we eat is already present in the ready-made foods so it's important to check the labels. Credit: d3sign/Getty images

Low salt meat alternatives

High-salt meat alternatives are best suited for occasional use rather than providing staple sources of vegan protein.

Beans and chickpeas tinned in water, red split lentils, plain tofu and the dry variety of soya mince with no added salt are examples of versatile low-salt protein sources.

Additionally, using vegetables for meat alternatives is a great way to pack in extra nutrition whilst keeping that meaty texture.

If you find yourself depending on convenience food during busy days, consider if you could get into a batch cooking routine in order to prepare a number of healthful ready meals in advance.

Swapping salt for spices to add flavour to food

Using less salt can give us a new appreciation for other flavours. Here are just a few ideas that could help you get creative in the kitchen:

  • Experiment with adding chilli, ginger, lemon or lime juice or pepper.
  • If you usually buy flavoured tofu you could switch to the plain variety and flavour with a generous sprinkle of smoked paprika, or whatever you like.
  • Frying onion and garlic in a little vegetable (rapeseed) or olive oil is a great foundation for soups, curries and more. If you need a quick fix, a combination of frozen diced onion and garlic granules is a great shout.
  • If you usually use ready-mixed spices that include salt among the ingredients, consider identifying and purchasing the individual spices for maximum flexibility without added salt.
  • Try different types of vinegar and flavoured oil.
  • Growing a few different types of herbs on your windowsill is a fun way of exploring different flavours.

Concerned about your sugar intake? Find out how to eat less sugar and feel your best

Feature image credit: Basak Gurbuz Derman/Getty Images

References

  1. World Health Organisation
  2. NHS: Salt – The Fact
  3. Blood Pressure UK
  4. Alzheimer’s Society: High blood pressure and dementia

Written by

Heather Russell

Heather Russell is a registered dietician with the British Dietetic Association. She worked in the NHS from 2010-16 and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society. Heather combines her love of science with a desire to help people, covering topics such as vegan nutrition, supplementation, hospital catering for vegans, and healthy living.

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