Food scares can be a complete pain in the proverbial.
Every time we think we're being healthy, somebody comes along and decides that such and such gives you cancer, this will make you sterile and the other will cause early onset dementia... or whatever other terrifying ailment they decide to attribute to our favourite food. I'm actually waiting for the announcement that 5 a day is far too much and we should all increase our pie intake (that's not going to happen is it...?)
However, amidst all the confusing and contradictory reports, one thing is absolutely proven - too much salt is bad for you.
The essential salt levels we need for our health are miniscule in comparison to our overall intake. Adults need less than 1 gram of salt a day and children even less than that. The maximum daily recommended intake is 6g per day, far less than the national average of nearly 9g per day. And sadly it is well documented that high sale intake is linked to a frighteningly long list of potentially life threatening ailments including strokes, heart failure and heart attacks. Salt increases blood pressure and raised blood pressure is a major factor in these health issues.
The problem is that it's rarely about how much we sprinkle over our chips. Around 75% of our salt intake comes via everyday foods. Bread, cheese, breakfast cereals, even cakes and biscuits all contain 'hidden' salt. Not so well disguised culprits include processed foods, meats like ham and bacon, tinned soups and sauces, ready meals and even the humble baked bean. Always pick the low salt option of these foods if they are available.
However, by far the worst offenders have been restaurant and takeaway foods. A recent survey found that takeaway pizza can contain almost two and a half times the salt content of the average supermarket pizza, and half the takeaway pizzas surveyed contained the entire daily recommended salt allowance. In fairness CASH (Consensus Action on Salt & Health) who carried out the survey are working in conjunction with fast food outlets to try and help them reduce these statistics without losing what customers expect from their takeaway or compromising their income. Similarly restaurants are becoming more aware and will respond favourably to a request for a meal to be prepared with less salt, and some using low salt/sodium products.
So what are we looking for on food labels - how much is too much? Most will list both salt and sodium content, and these are the numbers you should be looking for:
Low = Less than 0.30g salt or 0.1g sodium per 100g of food
Medium = 0.30g – 1.50g salt or 0.2 - 0.4g sodium per 100g of food
High = over 1.50g salt or 0.5g sodium per 100g of food
If you are a salt demon at the dinner table try to gradually reduce your intake. Rock or sea salt have no discernible benefits over table salt. You can re-educate your pallet within a matter of weeks, and there are a host of flavours you could use in cooking. Think herbs and spices, curry powders, mustard, lemon juice, specialist vinegars, wine, cider or beer, onions, garlic, ginger, chillies... it's all out there on the supermarket shelves promising a whole new world of exciting flavours, without the health risks!
And if you care for, or know someone who has suffered from a stroke, Croydon Stroke Support can offer help, advice and activities twice a month. Visit their website at http://www.croydonstrokesupport.co.uk for more details.
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