Salt is a necessary in the human diet. Essential for water balance in the body. It also helps conduct nerve impulses and works to co-ordinate muscle movement. But as we all know too well, high intake of salt is linked to high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease.

An infographic from the NHS in the UK,  states that the nation consumes a staggering 183,000,000kg of salt per year – the equivalent to 240,000,000 x 750g containers of table salt or 18,000 double decker buses. The same infographic says that 50,000 premature deaths in the UK in 2010 were caused by cardiovascular disease, of which high blood pressure is a huge factor. Salt is known to increase blood pressure, with 30% of men and 26% of women in the UK known to suffer from the condition.

Recommended daily salt intake for an adult is 6g of salt or 2.4g sodium. Sodium is the other name for salt and is added to processed foods and ready meals.  It would seem from research that this is primarly how our salt intake has increased so dramatically. It’s not the salt we add at the table or in cooking – it is a combination of this plus the ‘hidden’ salt we consume in processed and ready made foods. The NHS points out that the amount of salt we add to food makes up just 10% of intake. There is 15% salt naturally occuring in fresh foods. But it’s the massive 75% which comes from foods we buy that makes up the bulk of our consumption.

No suprise then, to hear that from this week in New York City, new symbols will be required to be placed on dishes which are high in salt. The little salt pot symbol is set to become a familiar sight on restaurant menus, says an article in Business Insider. Americans are known to suffer from high blood pressure and heart issues because of increased salt intake. The recommended daily allowance recommended by US doctors is 3,400mg. This amount can be achieved, according to the article, by eating just one TGI Friday New York Cheddar and Bacon Burger, reported from nutritional information published by the company. Restrauteurs in New York have reacted to this news with the view that these new laws make it harder to do business. Salt producers say there is a ‘misimpression about the risks of salt in New Yorkers’ diets’, says Business Insider.  

It’s hard to know what opinion to draw, and one would suspect there is  an argument for both restrauteurs and producers being right. While the figures show excess salt is responsible for an increase in fatal illnesses and the public must be made aware of that – when does it become the responsiblity of the chef or producer, instead of the individual who is consuming the salt?  

Salt is a valuable seasoning. Most chefs and cooks prefer their dishes to go to the table perfectly seasoned, rather than have diners feel the need to add more.  In some cases, you won’t even find salt on the tables in certain restaurants. Asking for it would be to commit a mortal sin against the skills of the chef. So much so, that in days gone by, when it was regarded as okay to behave like a prima donna  if you were a top chef,  customers could have been forcibly removed from the restaurant if they dared to ask for extra salt!

So how do we begin to help ourselves here? At home, a good rule of thumb is to use salt in cooking, to season the food or add to the cooking water for vegetables and pasta etc, or to leave it out altogether and add it to taste at the table instead. It’s a personal choice. But the point is you shouldn’t do both.

If you are prone to buying ready made meals, takeaways and over processed foods regularly, that means reading labels and looking for the word ‘Sodium’ in the list of ingredients. Remember the recommended daily intake of sodium is just 2.4g – that means in total, not alongside additional salt at the table or in cooking at home.  It won’t take long to do the maths.

Choose low salt options where possible. For anything from ready made dishes and sauces to bacon, ham and sausages

Always a good quality pure sea salt that has no extra things added. Oriel Sea Salt comes from the Irish Sea off the coast of Clogherhead. A fine grain pure sea salt which is also rich in magnesium and other minerals. You only need a tiny amount of superlative quality  handmade salt to add flavour to any dish. The better quality salt you use, the less you will need. And the more flavour you will gain. Simple.

Get your blood pressure checked if you haven’t done so in a while. You may never show symptoms of having high blood pressure,  which is why it is such a deadly killer.