Pass the salt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2007, 12:00am

We all need a small amount of salt, or sodium chloride, for our bodies to function properly, but but most of us eat far too much.

Unprocessed fruit, vegetables, meat and fish provide all the sodium we need. Over 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from processed food, such as breakfast cereals, soups, sauces, ready meals and biscuits.

The rest is either added during cooking or shaken on the foods we eat. Surveys by The Chinese University of Hong Kong show that Hong Kong people eat much more than the daily target. The figure for 2002 was 9.9 grams.

There is evidence to show that dietary habits during childhood and adolescence influence eating patterns in later life. Humans aren't born with a liking for salt; rather our preference for salty foods are learned in our early years.

We know from studies that high levels of salt increase an adult's chances of developing high blood pressure or hypertension. People with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

In recognition of the need to encourage people to eat a more balanced diet, in particular more fruit and vegetables and less salt, the UK government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in 2003 issued daily salt targets.

They are no more than five grams a day for seven- to 10-year-olds, and no more than six grams for anyone older than 11.

The World Health Organisation recommends a lower salt target for adults: five grams or less a day.

To help you ditch the salt, here's a few helpful hints:

{bull} Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat, such as pre-packed foods, bacon, sausages, ham, foods canned in brine, pickles, crisps, pizza, baked beans and salted fish

{bull} Experiment with different flavourings at home, for example, add lemon, spices, garlic, ginger, mustard, onion, pepper or herbs

{bull} Cook vegetables without adding salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or soy sauce

{bull} Don't add salt or soy sauce to cooked food

{bull} Watch out for bottled cooking sauces as these usually contain salt and MSG, eg. hoisin, barbecue, yellow bean and pasta sauces

{bull} Look at food labels before you buy; remember salt is often listed as sodium. Multiply the sodium figure by 2.5 to get an estimate of the salt content.

Check the label

Salt: More than 1.25g per 100g food is HIGH

Salt: Less than 0.25g per 100g food is LOW

Sodium: More than 0.5g per 100g food is HIGH

Sodium: Less than 0.1g per 100g food is LOW

Source: UK Food Standards Agency, 2003


1. What is the chemical name for salt?

A. Sodium bicarbonate

B. Monosodium glutamate

C. Sodium chloride

2. What is the World Health Organisation's daily salt target for adults?

A. Five grams a day

B. Six grams a day

C. Seven grams a day

3. Most of the salt we eat comes from . . .

A. Unprocessed foods

B. Processed foods

C. Fresh foods

4. If we eat too much salt, we increase our chances of developing which disease?

A. Hypertension

B. Hyperlipidaemia

C. Diabetes

5. If a 100-gram packet of crisps contains two grams of salt, it is . . .

A. High in salt

B. Low in salt

6. If a 100-gram serving of plain congee contains 0.05 grams of sodium, it is . . .

A. High in sodium

B. Low in sodium