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HealthInfo Canterbury

How to reduce your salt intake

Salt is a chemical compound made up of sodium and chloride. It's used to preserve and flavour foods and is the main source of sodium in our diet. A small amount of salt is important for good health because the sodium it contains controls many of our bodily functions. But too much salt is bad for you and most New Zealanders eat more than they need.

The problem with too much salt

It's the sodium in salt that can be bad for your health. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases your risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. It can also cause ankle swelling and excessive fluid in the body in some people.

Your sodium needs

You shouldn't have more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. That's 6 g salt – just over a teaspoon of fine salt. For good health, you only need 460 to 920 mg of sodium a day – less than half a teaspoon of fine salt.

Sodium in your diet

Much of the sodium we eat is hidden, with as much as 75% coming from processed and packaged foods. The salt you add during cooking and at the table isn't the main problem as it only provides about 15% of the sodium we eat. The remaining 10% is in fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, fresh fish, chicken, meat and eggs.

Lowering your sodium intake

Foods that are high in sodium

Avoid or limit:

Alternatives to salt

Iodised salt

Iodine is an essential mineral that your thyroid needs to work properly. It also affects both physical and mental development.

New Zealand soils lack iodine, so iodine has been added to table salt in New Zealand since the 1920s. But many New Zealanders are now getting less iodine. Part of the problem is that processed foods usually contain non-iodised salt. Many people also use gourmet sea salt and other salts that aren't iodised. So, when you use salt at home, always use iodised salt.

To help us get more iodine, food manufacturers must now use iodised salt when making bread. Another good source of iodine is seafood.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2018.

Sources

A glass salt shaker image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Page reference: 35325

Review key: HIHEI-34305