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Our bodies need a little bit of salt to stay healthy, but almost everyone eats far more than they need. Too much salt raises your blood pressure which, like high cholesterol, leads to heart attacks and strokes, and cutting down on salt can lower it.

Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or you’d like to prevent it, eating less salt will help. In fact, the less salt you eat, the lower your blood pressure will be.

Eating less salt will help prevent other problems such as kidney disease too.

Why is too much salt bad for health?

High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart and can lead to diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including heart attacks and strokes. Having high cholesterol and high blood pressure at the same time makes these problems more likely.

High blood pressure damages the walls of the arteries. It’s in these damaged areas that cholesterol collects, clogging up the arteries and making them narrower.

Eating less salt doesn’t mean food has to be bland, take a look at our tips below to keep your foods full of flavour, without the salt. It may take a little time for you to adjust to eating less salt but it is worth it.

How much salt should we eat?

Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, and children should eat less.
Most people eat a lot more than 6g. It’s hard to know how much you’re eating because it’s hidden in the foods we buy – such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, table sauces, cheese and processed meat. In fact, three quarters of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy, rather than added at home.

Food from cafes, restaurants and takeaways tend to be much saltier than foods from shops, easily taking you over 6g a day, sometimes in just one meal.

How to cut down on salt

Use these tips to help you eat less than 6g of salt a day:

  • Check the labels. When you’re shopping, check the label to see how much salt is in your food and how much it will add up to. For example, 1.5g in one meal or snack is quite a lot, but 0.3g should be fine.

    Many foods will have a label on the front of pack making it easy to check the salt content, if not, it should be on the back. When labels are colour-coded with red, amber and green, go for green and amber as much as possible.

    Sometimes foods will have sodium printed on the label instead of salt. Sodium is a part of salt. To work out the amount of salt, times the sodium by 2.5.
  • Cut down on very salty flavourings. Many table sauces and flavourings are very salty, such as stock cubes, spice mixes and curry powders, gravy granules, soy sauce, mustard, Worcester sauce, salad dressings and ketchup. Look out for low salt options.
  • Compare products. Sometimes products which seem very similar will have completely different amounts of salt - such as ready-made salads or different brands of bread. It’s always worth comparing a few options before you buy.
  • Avoid very high salt foods. Avoid or cut down on the saltiest foods, such as bacon, ham and sausages, ready-made sandwiches and salads, ready-made soups and pasta sauces, breaded chicken and fish products, and salty snacks such as Bombay mix, crisps and salted nuts.
  • Use spices instead of salt. When you’re cooking, try adding spices and herbs to your food and use less salt. Experiment with different flavours. Use strong flavours like lemon, chilli, ginger, garlic, pepper, cinnamon, vinegar, and fresh or dried herbs such as basil and coriander. Make your own marinades, stocks and sauces to bring your foods to life.
  • Keep takeaways for special occasions. Takeaway foods are particularly salty. Pizzas, curries and burgers, for example, can all take you well over 6g, so only choose them every now and then.
  • Take the salt off the table. Remember to taste your food before adding salt. Better still, take the salt off the table so you don’t reach for it without thinking
  • Check the menus when you’re eating out. Many restaurants and cafes have nutrition information available if you ask for it, and some have it on their website. If you eat out often, checking the nutrition information will mean you know what you’re eating – you’ll probably be surprised at what you find out.
  • Eat less ready-made and processed foods. Eat fresh foods and cook from scratch as much as possible. If you do want to buy things that are ready made, remember to check the label.
  • Give your taste buds time to adjust. At first, when you stop adding salt to your food, you’ll probably taste the difference. Be patient and give it time. Your taste buds will adjust – just like when you stop adding sugar to tea. Within a few weeks and you’ll begin to taste the natural flavours in foods without adding salt.

Learn more about high blood pressure and how to lower it