How to cut 'hidden salt' out of your diet

Nicola McCafferty
Yahoo Lifestyle
11 March 2013

The British food industry has taken a serious battering in recent months, following the horsemeat scandal and revelations that processed meat is to blame for one in 30 deaths.

And today a new survey has revealed the dangerous levels of 'hidden salt' in many of our favourite meals served in high street restaurants and celebrity chef eateries.

Research from the Consenus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) discovered that 347 meals found in some of the nation's favourite restaurants would earn them a red traffic light label for salt content.

[Related: Why processed meat is so bad for you and how to avoid it]

That's not all either, as 13 of the saltiest restaurant main meals were found to contain more than the recommended daily salt allowance of 6g.

The latest reports will spark fears for those of us trying to live a healthy lifestyle, as diets high in salt are linked to a number of health problems - including stomach cancer, kidney disease and osteoporosis.

So just what is safe for us to put in our mouths?

We spoke to two leading nutritionists to find out what they think of the latest food industry revelations and why considering your salt intake is just an important as monitoring your saturated fat and sugar levels.

Amanda Ursell
, a nutritionist who has been advising workplace caterer Charlton House on reducing its salt usage, said today's findings are shocking but it's not all doom and gloom as many restaurants are actually already taking steps to reduce sodium levels in their foods.

"I was shocked with the findings today," she admitted. "As a nation we need to get to grips with this.

"But there is a general move in reducing salt within the food industry. Many places such as Subway and McDonalds are taking steps to cut back.

"If you're someone who eats out every day, perhaps buys their lunch from a coffee shop, then yes, take a good look at your salt levels."

So what about the rest of us, who eat out only a few times a month? Is salt still an issue?

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"[What we do need is] an overall perspective," Amanda explained. "We get 75 per cent of salt from processed foods.

"We need to go back to basics as much as we can. For those of us that don't eat out everyday, salt comes from breakfast cereals, ready meals and adding salt to foods."

Some may be shocked to learn that breakfast cereals - which are always touted as being high in sugar - often contain high levels of salt, along with bread and sauces.

As nutitionist Marilyn Glenville explains, we should look at what we're eating at home before we head out to eat.

"People aren't aware how much salt they accumulate eating throughout the day," she told us.

"Whether you add salt to foods or not, you may not realise that you're eating it. Salt is very much hidden.

"Bread would be a surprising [food that contains salt] to many people," she continued. "Sauces are another important one to consider.

"If you think of a pizza, there's salt in the base and in the tomato sauce. Add anchovies as a topping or something - that's quite a bad combo."

Marilyn added that while seeing the nutritional content for everything on a menu can be off-putting to some, making that information more readily available could combat the problem of 'hidden' salt levels.

"In most restaurants you haven’t got any help at all," she said. "Plus we tend to eat more when we go out, meaning that bread basket and starter all add up."

[Related: March superfoods for a healthy spring]

Marilyn advised that one of the best ways to get a handle on our salt intake is to keep a food diary.

"Try a food diary and jot down each day what you're eating and the salt levels," she suggested. "It might be an eye opener.

"Some of us are guilty of adding salt without even tasting our food first. A lot of diet products contain more salt too, as they up it to make it more palatable.

"You might think you're cutting down or sat fat or sugar, but salt is going up."

Amanda added that the horsemeat scandal, processed meat revelations and today's research on salt should make us all stop and think.

She said: "We should all take a much more holistic view of food. It's a punctuation point to stop and think about whether your food is coming from.

"Use these problems that the food industry have had over past few months to work on being healthy."

Top tips to reducing your salt intake:

1. Go back to basics and avoid ready meals and processed foods. Eat 'clean' where possible.
2. Keep a food diary for a few days and monitor salt levels to get an accurate account of your intake.
3. Bread, soup and breakfast cereals often contain a lot of salt, so check the nutritional information.
4. Consider your whole day and not just one meal.
5. Don't cook with salt, be clever with seasoning. If you miss salt, bear in mind it only takes a few weeks for your tastebuds to adjust.
6. Some cultures put more salt in their food. Soy sauce has a high salt level, so consider that before you cover a stir fry in it.
7. What's inside your sandwich, as well as the bread it's in, all count.
8. If you're going out for dinner, consider what you've eaten already. Could you bump up your meal with salads or cooked vegetables?
9. Sauces and dressings often contain high levels of salt. Opt for olive oil or plain leaves.
10. Swap toast and salt-laden cereals for porridge, to give yourself lots of morning energy.

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