Reflections from my Salt Watch Week

My salt watch week allowed me to not only reflect on the salt content of food, but it became a reminder of how complex food becomes when we are not making it ourselves. Did I find any surprises during the week?

Salt watch week - bench with chopping board, salt, herbs, spices and oil

Image credit: Unsplash photos, Todd Quackenbush

Natural sources of salt

Salt occurs naturally in a range of foods. It contains sodium and chloride. It is the sodium part of salt that has been linked to a range of health conditions, as outlined in my previous article on the hidden sources of salt.

The current recommendation for sodium intake, from all sources of salt, is:

1500mg per day, about ¾ teaspoon of salt, with an upper limit of no more than 2300mg, just over 1 teaspoon of salt

The Heart Foundation salt converter is a great tool for converting sodium and salt contents of food.

Foods that a naturally low in salt—vegetables, legumes, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and poultry—also provide a range of other nutritional benefits.

We know, from research, that the potassium content of food is important to health …

We have evolved from food sources that provided the potassium to sodium ratio of 10 to 1. It has been estimated that the Western diet has reversed the ratio of potassium to sodium to 1 to 3.

Salt watch processed foods

Around 75% of our salt intake comes from processed foods. Some of these foods can be nutritionally valuable, such as whole grain and wholemeal breads, whole grain no added sugar breakfast cereals and cheese.

Other packaged foods such as salty snack foods, sauces and spreads have less nutritional value.

Packaged foods will advise you of the sodium content. You can look at the ingredients list and the nutritional panel to identify foods, which have added salt.

Higher salt foods that I eat regularly are cheese and Asian-style sauces. My two favourite cheeses are goats feta and haloumi. I included these as usual during the week.

  • 25g serve of goats feta contains, 235mg sodium
  • 50 g serve haloumi contains 690mg sodium 

During my salt watch week I made do without sauces for my stir-fry. I used freshly grated ginger, fresh basil and baked pumpkin to add flavour (and colour) to my meal.

My sourdough bread from a local bakery comes unwrapped, so I had to contact the bakery for the salt content. I estimated this from a dough mix for 45 loaves.

40g slice of sourdough contains 155mg of sodium, which is in the midrange for this type of bread

You may like to read the report on the salt content of breads. This was published in the The Conversation, March 2017.

I also occasionally use canned lentils and legumes, which contain added salt. Rinsing the beans with water reduces the salt content, but it is impossible to estimate the amount.

During the week I used a 400g can of brown lentils, 200g per meal.

200g canned lentils (including the brine) contains 480mg sodium

I was pleasantly surprised to find a ‘no added salt’ range of relish and chutney, however these come with added sugar.

“Finding the right balance of added ingredients is a personal journey, as it depends on other sources of added salt and sugar, as well has our health requirements.”

I also investigated the salt content of potato crisps, as I enjoy them on an occasional basis.

The variety of crisp that I choose promotes ‘light coverage of salt’. I only reviewed one type, so you need to read food labels to assess the range of salt contents in snack foods.

28g (about 18 chips) contains 134mg sodium

With the suggested serving sizes you have to consider, “How many chips would I eat?” 18, more or less?

Eating out salt watch

During the week I ate four meals outside of home, so the salt content of these remains unknown. These meals included:

  1. A vegetable and lentil pie
  2. Homemade vegetable burger and fresh cut chips
  3. A vegetable and tofu red curry
  4. Falafel and salad plate

Potential sources of salt in these meals include:

  • Pastry
  • Cooking of the lentils
  • Sprinkling of salt on the chips (because I forgot to ask for no added salt)
  • Curry sauce
  • Other salt added during preparation

10 lessons from salt watch week

  1. Ask for no added salt when eating out
  2. Read the food labels on food
  3. Choose reduced salt or no added salt canned foods
  4. Use dried lentils and legumes when possible
  5. Ask your regular baker for the salt content of their breads and pastries
  6. Fill your plate with vegetables at meal times
  7. Enjoy higher salt nutritious foods in small amounts and spaced over the week
  8. Use fresh herbs and spices for flavouring and make sauces from scratch e.g. stir-fries, curries and pasta sauces
  9. Base your meals and snacks on unprocessed whole foods
  10. Have a magnifying glass on hand to read the food labels

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