Research shows that many of us are eating too much salt – with a large proportion of UK adults consuming up to 40% more than the recommended daily intake.

Diets containing too much salt are linked with high blood pressure, which is the leading changeable risk factor for heart disease in the UK. But with salt creeping its way into so many everyday foods, you might be wondering what you can do to lower your intake.

Luckily, there are plenty of simple steps that can help – from being savvy with product descriptions to making more home-cooked meals. Here are nine ways to lower your salt intake.

On average, Brits eat 40% too much salt

On average, Brits eat 40% too much salt

According to the NHS, adults should have no more than 6g of salt a day – the equivalent of around one level teaspoon. This includes the salt already in food, as well as what we add during and after cooking.

However, research from the British Heart Foundation shows that working-age adults eat an average of 8.4g of salt a day – 40% above the national guideline.

This is even without considering that the UK salt guideline of 6g salt maximum per day is actually 15% higher than the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 5g. Based on this figure, many of us could be consuming as much as 68% more salt than the maximum recommended intake.

Why does our salt intake matter?

Salt contains sodium, which we need a certain amount of in our diet to stay healthy. Among other things, sodium helps to maintain blood plasma volume, transmits nerve impulses, and supports normal cell function. However, too much can harm our health.

Eating too much salt causes high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – because sodium draws water into the blood vessels, increasing their pressure.

Hypertension is the leading changeable risk factor for heart disease in the UK and, according to the British Heart Foundation, contributes to around half of all heart attacks and strokes. Diets high in salt are associated with a 23% increase of stroke and a 14% increased risk of heart disease.

According to the British Heart Foundation, an estimated 28% of UK adults have hypertension – the equivalent of 15 million adults.

9 ways to lower your salt intake

9 ways to lower your salt intake

Moderating the amount of salt you eat is one of the most important things you can do for your health. So what steps can you take to reduce your intake?

We’ll cover some ideas below…

1. Base your diet around whole foods

Whole foods are those that haven’t been processed, but are left close to their natural state. When food is processed, salt, sugar, and saturated fats are usually added, while important nutrients, such as fibre, are removed.

So, because you can rest assured that whole foods, in general, are naturally lower in salt, basing your diet around them is a solid foundation to start with.

There isn’t an official list of whole foods, so opinions on what constitutes whole differ. However, there’s a consensus that foods like wholegrains like quinoa and oats, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds like chia and flaxseed, beans and lentils, and unprocessed meats and fish are whole foods.

Check out this healthy whole foods grocery list from College Nutritionist for more information.

2. Start with the main culprits

Researchers have identified the top 10 types of food which are believed to account for over 40% of the sodium we consume each day. Alongside eating more whole foods, reducing – or modifying – your intake of these can be a good place to start.

Among the foods identified were bread, pizza, soups, cured meats, savoury snacks, and cheese.

In some cases, this is the result of production processes like meat curing, where salt is the main ingredient used (just two slices of parma ham contain 20% of the maximum daily recommended salt intake). It can also be because all of a food’s components are high in salt – for example, the sauce, cheese, and crust of shop-brought or takeaway pizzas.

Other times, it’s simply down to the amount we consume. For example, researchers pointed out that bread products topped the list, not because they’re particularly salty, but because we eat so much of them.

You can find out more about the top 10 sodium-high foods on the Harvard Health website.

3. Consider less obvious sources of salt

Research has found that as much as 85% of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy – rather than what we add during cooking and eating.

But it’s not only the obviously salty items that we need to look out for; many unsuspecting everyday foods are surprisingly high in salt too.

For example, several supermarket-ready meals have been found to contain more salt than an entire tube of Pringles. Meanwhile, research from Action on Salt revealed that two slices of Hovis white bread contain up to a fifth of the maximum recommended daily intake of salt – the equivalent of a McDonald’s Hamburger.

Check out this list of 7 surprisingly salty foods from the British Heart Foundation for more help with what to look out for.

4. Watch your sauces and condiments

Ketchup, mayonnaise, pesto, and soy sauce…we love sauces and condiments. And while they’re great for adding flavour, many condiments and ready-made sauces also contain high amounts of salt, sugar, and fat.

One portion of Dolmio’s original bolognese sauce contains 15% of the daily recommended salt intake; while a 30g serving of Heinz original ketchup contains 10%.

Luckily, simple swaps, like choosing Heinz’s 50% less salt and sugar tomato ketchup, can make all the difference. That said, many brands’ ‘healthier’ alternatives aren’t always better, so it’s important to check nutritional labels. For example, Dolmio’s low-fat bolognese sauce contains the same amount of salt as the original – so you’d be better off using an alternative like passata instead!

Equally, in some cases, reducing your intake altogether may be necessary over making a swap. For example, even reduced-salt versions of soy sauce can contain over 2g of salt per tablespoon.

Watch your sauces and condiments

5. Cook more meals at home

According to research, the foods that we eat outside of our homes are the highest contributor to our salt intake. This study of 450 adults across different geographic areas revealed that commercial and restaurant foods accounted for 70% of the total sodium intake.

One of the simplest ways to reduce your salt intake is to control what goes into your meals by cooking at home.

There are plenty of delicious home-cooked recipes, and many aren’t time-consuming either. Head over to the food and drink section of our website for inspiration. Here, you’ll find everything from healthy 30-minute meals to freezable recipes that make for easy meals later.

As well as helping to manage salt intake, cooking more of your own meals has the bonus of helping you lose weight too. This study of more than 11,000 adults found that those who cooked meals at home more often had lower body fat and an overall better diet quality than people who ate at home less frequently.

6. Limit takeaways and be savvy with your choices

Research from Action on Salt has revealed that a takeaway curry with all the extras (rice, naan bread, poppadoms, chutney, etc.) could provide the equivalent of over three times the maximum recommended intake of 6g salt a day.

And, considering that this survey from Ninja Kitchen found that nearly half of Brits (49%) eat takeaway foods up to four times a week, this is an area we need to address when it comes to reducing our salt intake.

Even seemingly healthier options, like Subway, contain high amounts of hidden salt (a six-inch spicy Italian sub contains 2.7g salt – 45% of the maximum daily intake).

But if you love a takeaway, don’t fear – there are still ways to enjoy your favourite foods without risking your health. Takeaways vary significantly in their salt content, and many chains offer nutritional information, which makes picking lower-salt options easier. For example, you’d save 1.1g salt ordering the ‘big beef melt’ instead of a spicy Italian sub at Subway.

You can find more information about the salt content of popular chain restaurants and fast-food meals on the British Heart Foundation website.

7. Use other methods to flavour your food

Many of us reach for the salt shaker when it comes to seasoning our food. But there are plenty of other herbs, spices, fruits, and juices that are just as effective at adding flavour and depth to meals – and using these is a fantastic way to limit the amount of salt you eat.

Ginger, lemon juice, coriander, garlic, pepper, rosemary, honey, coconut, vinegar, and chilli flakes are just some of the endless salt substitutes. And the good news is that, as well as spanning a range of different flavours, many of these options are incredibly healthy.

Black pepper, for example, has been found to help reduce inflammation, while garlic is linked with improved immunitybrain function, and lower blood pressure.

Check out these 18 flavourful salt alternatives from Healthline for tips on how to get started.

8. Use food labels and descriptions to your advantage

The majority of food products have a ‘traffic light’ label which indicates whether they contain high, medium, or low amounts of salt (as well as sugars and fats). Looking at these can be a quick and easy way to get a general idea of a food’s salt content.

But various words and descriptions can be helpful for identifying high-salt foods too. This includes products described as ‘smoked’, ‘cured’, ‘pickled’, ‘corned’, or ‘in brine’ – and, of course, more obviously, anything that’s ‘salted’ (such as nuts, butter, popcorn, and crisps).

Reducing your intake of these types of products or making simple swaps – like buying canned fish in spring water rather than brine or using unsalted butter – can be useful.

9. Avoid placing salt shakers on the table

If you add salt to your meals, one of the best things you can do is take steps to break this habit. As Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Blood Pressure UK, says, “Taking the salt shaker off the table is an excellent place to start.”

Interestingly, research has linked the simple act of always adding salt to meals at the table with shorter life expectancy.

In this study, which followed over 500,000 middle-aged people for nine years, people who always seasoned their food with salt had a 28% higher risk of premature death (before the age of 75) compared to those who rarely or never did.

Final thoughts…

Eating too much salt is intrinsically linked with high blood pressure – the greatest changeable risk of heart disease. So, taking steps to reduce your salt intake is one of the best things you can do for your health.

For further reading, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here, you’ll find information on everything from reducing your intake of added sugar to quick and easy diet swaps for a healthier lifestyle.

What steps have you taken to lower your salt intake? Has anything in our article surprised you? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.