Trying to eat a low salt diet can feel near impossible, especially when salt is in so many of our everyday foods.
Choosing a low salt diet is much better for our overall health since consuming more than our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 6g (roughly one teaspoon) can lead to health issues, such as high blood pressure – one of the major risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
“There are lots of ways you can restrict your salt intake, and it only takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adjust and become more sensitive to salt,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at healthspan.co.uk.
So to help navigate the tricky territory around reducing daily salt intake, we have put together this guide on how to get onto the low salt diet, what to eat and how to make it a permanent fixture in your life.
What is the low salt diet?
Most of us eat more salt than we need. According to the Food Standards Agency, we should all restrict our salt intake to around six grams of salt a day. However, the average UK woman eats eight grams of salt a day while the average man eats a whopping 11 grams.
A low salt diet, also known as a low sodium diet, is defined as eating less than six grams of table salt a day – that’s about one teaspoon. Salt is found in processed food, ready meals, tinned veg, and soup. Snacks like biscuits and crisps are particularly bad culprits.
How does the low salt diet work?
Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in causing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes. Research shows reducing the amount of salt in your diet can lower your blood pressure in just four weeks.
Sodium vs salt
Sodium and salt are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Sodium is what’s found in our food, especially in processed foods, while salt is what we add to our food. There are also different types of salt…
- Table salt – stripped of its minerals to give it that fine texture. Additives may also be added to prevent clumping.
- Sea salt – harvested from evaporated seawater, sea salt contains minerals such as zinc, potassium, and iron, giving it a more complex taste.
- Rock salt – chunkier in size compared to table salt. Often used to preserve meat.
What are the risks of a high salt diet?
According to The British Heart Foundation, a high salt diet causes your body to hold on to water, raising your blood pressure, and putting a strain on your organs. This can cause heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and kidney disease.
If you’re on blood pressure regulating medication, too much salt may also affect how well these meds work.
Who is the diet good for?
If you have high blood pressure, or it runs in your family, you should be following a low salt diet.
But even if you don’t have high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your salt intake to prevent future problems. Research shows a high salt diet can increase your risk of getting osteoporosis and cancer of the stomach. It might also make asthma worse. According to government figures, about 22 million people in Britain are currently trying to reduce their salt intake.
What are the drawbacks of the low salt diet?
None, in terms of health. But it can be tricky to work out how much salt is in certain foods and therefore how much you’re eating.
The technical name for salt is sodium chloride and one of the main problems is that some food labels list salt and others sodium, meaning you have to keep an eye out for both. Even more confusingly, salt is equal to two and a half times the same amount of sodium. So if a label only has sodium listed, you can work out the amount of salt by multiplying it by two and a half. For example, 1.2g sodium is equal to 3g salt. Luckily most supermarkets now use a traffic light system to label food’s salt content clearly.
And there are easier ways to avoid salt anyway as you’ll see below…
These are the easy main meal swaps to make:
SWAP Toast (0.3g salt) FOR Oats (0g salt)
Nutritionist Mays Al-Ali says, “Opt for high-protein smoothie bowls with fruits or overnight oats with vegan pea protein.” Make your overnight oats by layering 10g chia seeds, 10g ground flax seeds, and 40gof oats with 150ml almond milk and 2tbsp almond butter.
SWAP fried egg (1 fried in tbsp oil = 0.8g salt) FOR poached egg (0.2g salt)
Skip the extra salt in oil and cook in water for a healthy choice. “A medium egg contains 0.078g of sodium, 5% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult woman,” says nutritionist Dr. Juliet Gray.
SWAP processed meats (1.28g slice of ham = 0.3g salt) FOR turkey/chicken (0.07g salt per 100g breast)
You can easily add extra flavour to turkey and chicken with herbs – rosemary and sage go especially well with these meats. Slice up for sandwiches or enjoy as part of your evening meal.
SWAP ready-made soup (A 400g can of soup = up to 0.8g salt) FOR home-made broth (0.057g salt)
Skip your shop-bought soup and try your hand at making your own, using garlic, curry powder, and cumin seeds to pack in extra flavour. If you’re using a stock cube, ensure it’s low in sodium.
SWAP CRISPS A bag of ready salted crisps = 0.5g salt/34.5g) FOR VEG STICKS (0.035g salt)
Dr Laure Hyvernat, a nutrition expert, recommends ‘fine slices of carrot, celery and beetroot seasoned with paprika, herbs and black pepper’. Research has found beetroot is associated with a considerable reduction in blood pressure. It’s also packed with fibre, vitamin B, potassium and iron, making it a great all-round heart-healthy option.
SWAP SALTED PEANUTS 1.19G SALT/28G serving) FOR PLAIN PISTACHIOS (0g/28g serving)
Raw, shelled pistachios are cholesterol-free and an excellent source of fibre. By adding them to your diet as a snack, you can reap various heart health benefits, including ‘blood pressure and cholesterol reduction due to their high phytosterol content,’ says Mays. This is a plant sterol that decreases the risk of heart diseases and inflammation.
Use herbs and spices
Some meals require a little extra seasoning, but instead of reaching for the salt, try adding herbs, and spices. ‘Find a few that you like – such as curry and chili powder – and keep your cupboards stocked up,’ says Rob. ‘Spices can be added to any meal, and are a good source of minerals, such as calcium and iron. They have also been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body.’
What can you eat on a low salt diet?
Plenty of fresh foods like fruit, veg and fish along with starchy carbohydrates like brown rice and pasta. But remember not to add any salt. Make as many things from scratch as possible like pasta sauces and quiches – and don’t add salt.
Look for salt-free varieties of food like margarine and breakfast cereal. Even bread has salt in it so check the label.
A typical day on the low salt diet:
Shredded Wheat, semi-skimmed milk (Shredded Wheat is one of the few breakfast cereal without added salt) wholemeal toast with unsalted low-fat spread.
Grilled chicken with a green salad. Use lemon juice and herbs instead of a shop-bought dressing or swap for homemade vegetable soup with no added salt.
Wholemeal pasta with homemade pasta sauce made from tomatoes, onion, garlic, and black olives.
Fruit, unsalted nuts, natural yogurt.
Shocking salt facts
- A standard takeaway curry accompanied by rice, naan, sag aloo, popadom, and chutney = 20.5g salt
- A slice of shop-bought pizza= between 0.6g and 1.5g salt
- Fancy treating yourself to a takeaway pizza? That packs in even more salt with 4-6g per slice!
- Chinese takeaway = 2g salt per dish without sides
- Foot-long double meat Italian sub with cheese and sweet chili sauce = 11g of salt
- Takeaway burger and fries = 1.25g salt
Most of us eat far too much salt or sodium. It’s a health disaster. Cut back by following our advice and opting for a low salt diet plan.
Low salt recipes
Chicken noodle broth
This affordable chicken recipe is wholesome and comforting and much lower in salt and fat than shop-bought alternatives. For added flavour you can add a stock cube but we recommend using a low salt option such as Kallo.
Get the recipe: Chicken noodle broth
Chunky vegetable soup
Easy to prepare ahead and perfect for freezing, this hearty soup is also vegan! Packed full of goodness, this recipe is ideal if you need lunch or dinner inspiration. To keep the salt as low as possible, make homemade stock or choose low salt cubes.
Get the recipe: Chunky vegetable soup
Coronation-style chicken sandwiches
Chicken-based sandwiches have a lower salt content than cheese or ham fillings. To lower the salt content of this coronation filling even further, you can swap the mayonnaise for Greek yogurt instead. Alternatively, just be sure to buy a low salt mayo. Surprisingly, bread has a lot of salt too. You could swap for crackers or oatcakes or ensure the bread you buy is low in salt such as Livlife seriously seeded sliced bread.
Get the recipe: Coronation-style chicken sandwiches
Wholemeal bread loaf
Shopbought bread has a surprising amount of salt in and you might not have considered how this contributes to your daily intake. Making bread from scratch gives you full transparency and control over what you’re consuming. This recipe serves 10 and has around 0.5g salt per serving. Keep this in mind when choosing your toppings or sandwich fillings to ensure you have a balanced portion.
Get the recipe: Wholemeal bread loaf
Gousto’s spicy chicken and greens grain bowl
Healthy and hearty, this spicy chicken with greens and grains makes a delicious low salt dinner and leftovers can be eaten for lunch the next day. Using herbs and spices for flavouring reduces the need for excess salt and ensures you have tasty meals that are good for your body.
Get the recipe: Gousto’s spicy chicken and greens grain bowl
Pasta with king prawns, cherry tomatoes, and lemon
Did you know that some tinned tomatoes contain lots of added salt? This clever recipe combines the starchy pasta water with fresh vine tomatoes to create a flavoursome sauce with no nasty additives. We’ve used prawns but you could add chicken or extra veggies if you prefer.
Get the recipe: Pasta with king prawns, cherry tomatoes, and lemon
Low salt cookbooks
If you’d like even more inspiration for low salt recipes, check out the below cookbooks which should help you on your mission.
The Easy Low Sodium Diet Plan and Cookbook: Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Meals to Start (and Stick To) a Low Salt Diet
This cookbook has been given lots of positive reviews with many people expressing their delight with the recipes. There is a mix of slow cooker recipes and other speedy meal ideas, which makes cooking low salt recipes a breeze. Don’t have a slow cooker? Read our tried and test reviews of the best slow cookers.
The Complete Renal Diet Cookbook for Beginners: Low Sodium, Low Potassium & Low Phosphorus Renal Diet Recipes
Unusually for a cookbook, the images are printed in black and white which gives it a dated-feel. However, if you can look past this, reviews say the variety of recipes is good and that the instruction is clear with accurate prep and cook times too.
500 Low Sodium Recipes: Lose the salt, not the flavor in meals the whole family will love
Low salt doesn’t have to mean low flavour and with 500 recipes to choose from, you’re bound to find a selection the whole family adores. The recipes are written for a US audience so you may find certain ingredients need to be substituted. Recipes include spicy potato skins, three-bean salad, and velvet crumb cake.
The Heart Healthy Cookbook for Two: 125 Perfectly Portioned Low Sodium, Low Fat Recipes
This cookbook is perfect for couples who want guidance on portion control as well as recipe inspiration. Reviews say the book has lots of useful information, but some critique the lack of images to accompany the recipes.
Low Sodium Slow Cooker Cookbook: Over 100 Heart-Healthy Recipes That Prep Fast and Cook Slow
If you’ve got a busy household and want recipes that take minimal effort with maximum flavour, this book has plenty of inspiration for you. There are 100 recipes to choose from which take 30mins or less to prep. From sweet and spicy peanut pasta, mushroom risotto and sweet potato casserole to peach crumble and blueberry cobbler, you’re bound to find some new favourites.
Achieving a low salt diet on an everyday basis is simple once you know-how and our handy guide is sure to make it even easier.