Salt? I think I’ll pass

By Ian Marber, May 11, 2012
Ian Marber

Ian Marber

While chefs and cooks run wild, getting a little chubby and celebrating indulgence, many people have the notion that we nutrition folk sit in the corner rolling our eyes and sighing about poor food choices.

I hope that I sit somewhere in the middle, as I am passionate about food, but use my experience and training to steer a comfortable course between indulgence and abstention, eating and dieting, feasting and fasting. And that is my aim for this column — to explore the truth behind popular nutrition myths and advise on day-to-day health issues without losing the joy of eating.

Of course, we all know what we should be doing, more or less, but how to apply that knowledge isn’t always straightforward. Take salt for example — a diet with more than 6g of salt a day can raise the risk of heart disease or a stroke by as much as 13 per cent.

Excess salt in the diet disrupts the fine balance between sodium and potassium in the blood (the salt used in food is 40 per cent sodium, 60 per cent chloride), which leads to excess fluid in the body and in turn raises blood pressure.

There is a popular misconception that only poor quality, pre-prepared food (typified by takeaways and ready meals) contain high salt levels, and those of us who eat mostly home-cooked food are unlikely to get anywhere near 6g a day.

The truth is that salt is found in the most unlikely of places, from breakfast cereals to sauces, and while eating home-cooked food is certainly an excellent way to reduce intake, you can still do more.

There are some obvious steps — get salt-free stock cubes or powder, and when buying sauces or condiments, check the nutrition panel on the label and avoid those with more than 0.25g per 100g (or per ml).

It may not a staple in the average larder but I recommend getting a tub of mango powder, available in most Asian markets, and adding a small pinch to food — either while it is cooking or after it is prepared — where you might previously have used salt. It adds a depth of flavour in much the same way without any effects on blood pressure.

Remember that reducing salt at home will compensate for the unavoidable salt that you might be eating the rest of the day.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books. Follow him at Twitter @IanMarber

Last updated: 1:41pm, May 25 2012