Why do we need sodium?
Sodium is used for various functions within our body. The main ones include;
- Maintaining the right balance of fluid inside and outside our cells. It is important to have the right volume of fluid in our cells, blood and extra-cellularly (outside of cells). Sodium is one of the minerals which helps to maintain this balance.
- Sodium is also used by our nerves in the process of transmitting signals around our bodies and activating particular muscles as and when we need to use them.
How much should we be consuming?
Most of the sodium in our diets comes from sodium chloride, most commonly known as table salt. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, most people in the UK consume more than enough salt in their diets.
SACN (The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) recommend that adults consume no more than 6g salt per day (1). However, the average UK adult consumes 8g per day (2).
Too much salt in our diet has been associated with high blood pressure which can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
Sources of sodium
Salt is used as a preservative (to make foods last longer) and to enhance the foods flavour. The main sources of sodium are;
- Preserved meats and fish
- Ready meals and takeaways
- Bread and other cereal products
Other, much smaller, sources of sodium are monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a flavour enhancer, and sodium bicarbonate.
Sodium and salt on food labels
Sometimes food labels only state how much sodium is contained in the product. If this is the case, there is an easy way to work out how much salt it contains:
Salt = sodium x 2.5
Some packets may also use a traffic light system to let you know whether the food item is considered high in salt(3);
- High salt is colour-coded red and is more than 1.5g salt per 100g.
- Medium is amber-coloured and is anything between 3g and 1.5g salt per 100g.
- Low-salt foods are colour coded green and contain less than 0.3g salt per 100g.
This is shown easily below:
How can I reduce the salt in my diet?
It’s best to try and eat foods that are low- or medium-salt, and only have foods high in salt occasionally.
You could also try switching to low-salt varieties of things like stock cubes and baked beans. It may take a couple of weeks to adjust to the change in flavour, but it’s quite surprising how quickly you get used to a lower salt product.
You could also try not adding salt to food at the table or when cooking. Try adding other spices and herbs whilst cooking, and maybe only put pepper on the table when it comes to sitting down to eat.
- SACN (2003). Salt and Health. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/338782/SACN_Salt_and_Health_report.pdf
- Public Health England (2016). Obesity and healthy eating. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-phe-data-on-salt-consumption-levels
- NHS Choices. Salt: the facts. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx