Tips for reducing your salt intake

Photo of a woman cooking (Juan Carlos de la Calle Velez / iStock / Thinkstock)

We need a certain amount of salt to live, but most of us eat much more salt than our bodies need. Too much salt can increase your blood pressure – and a low-salt diet can reduce it.

Most of the salt in our diet is found in processed foods. Examples of foods that contain a lot of salt include potato chips (crisps) and salty snacks, processed fish and meat products, and many different types of cheese. Bread, convenience foods, ready-made sauces and seasonings are often heavily salted too.

Fresh and unprocessed foods, on the other hand, are low in salt. They include things like fresh fish, fresh meat and many dairy products such as yogurt. Most fruits and vegetables are very low in salt – for example, there's only 1 gram of salt in 13 kilos (about 29 pounds) of tomatoes. Grain products like pasta or rice are also naturally low in salt. This is not true of processed grain products like bread or cornflakes.

If you would like to reduce your salt intake, it's helpful to have a general idea of how much salt there is in various foods. The following list may be useful.

1 gram of salt is found in:

  • 2 portions of cheese spread (60 grams) or
  • 2 slices of cheese (60 grams) or
  • 1 liter of milk

  • 1 slice of salami (30 grams) or
  • 2 portions of meat spread / pâté (60 grams) or
  • 5 portions of meat (750 grams)

  • 1 tablespoon-sized piece of smoked herring (15 grams) or
  • one can of tuna in oil, drained (140 grams) or
  • 8 portions of fresh fish (800 grams)

  • 2 handfuls of roasted and salted peanuts (50 grams) or
  • 2 to 3 handfuls of potato chips (60 grams) or
  • 2 kilograms of fresh carrots

It's not easy to make long-term changes to your eating habits – after all, eating is one of life’s pleasures. But low-salt food doesn't necessarily have to be bland. You can season it with fresh or dried herbs instead.

How good something tastes to you is partly a matter of what you're used to – so it's often easier to gradually reduce the amount of salt you use over a few weeks instead of doing it all at once. That makes it easier to get used to the natural flavors and not feel like something is missing.

Many people like eating snacks like pretzels, salted nuts or potato chips when they watch TV, for example. These foods are not only very salty, but they are high in calories as well. Low-salt, low-calorie alternatives include unsalted nuts, fresh fruit skewers or freshly sliced vegetable sticks (carrots, celery or bell peppers) with a yogurt or sour cream dip.