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Wales, United Kingdom
You know those diagrams in science textbooks that show the water cycle? Water evaporates from the sea and cools as it rises over the land until it condenses into clouds. Well that's where I live - where the clouds are born. It's very beautiful here, and it's also very damp. I don't yet know what I'll be writing about here. I had a blog a few years ago called, "Growing Things and Making Things," and there will be some continuity with that, but my life has moved on since then. I'm at a stage of reflection and re-evaluation - you could call it a mid life crisis - and this blog will reflect that. There'll be posts about things I'm doing - foraging, cooking, crafts, daft experiments (which may overlap with any or all of the other three) - posts about my thoughts on life, photos of beautiful Welsh scenery, maybe some Welsh language, and probably a bit of politics. Because it's important.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

How much salt do you eat?

I was reading an article in New Scientist yesterday about salt (Question: Have the health risks of salt been overstated? Answer: No, that's just propaganda by the salt industry) that had the following sentence highlighted:
Try calculating your own salt intake and you'll soon learn how hard it is to meet even modest targets
Out of curiosity, I did just that, for all the food I ate yesterday.

Breakfast:muesli made fromoatstrace
apple -
milk (400ml)1 g
Cup of tea...trace
with milk0.05 g
Lunchone slice of bread0.5 g
with butter0.3 g
celery0.1 g
houmous made fromchick peastrace
lemon juice -
olive oil -
mince pie made fromflourtrace
lard0.05 g
butter0.05 g
sugar -
mixed fruittrace
apple -
treacle -
cordial -
brandy -
spices -
Another cup of tea0.05 g
with another mince pie0.1 g
Salty snack!bacon crispies0.8 g
Dinnerbrown ricetrace
with stew made fromchick peastrace
tinned tomatoes0.2 g
bacon0.9 g
celery salt0.1 g
Worcester sauce0.1 g
herbs -
pepper -
Orange squashtrace
Total4.3 g

Against a limit of 5 g per day, not that hard at all, it seems. I wasn't even trying. I wonder how different that would have been if I'd been eating processed versions of these foods, rather than home made. A couple of my items appeared as examples in the article, so I could compare. One slice of wholemeal bread with butter was cited as containing 0.7 g salt, which is about the same as mine (I probably put more butter on - half an ounce per slice - I weighed it) and a bowl of cereal with milk was cited as 0.4 g, less than half of mine, but then I probably ate three times the quantity. My bacon crispies (byproduct of rendering lard, and very tasty, especially when fresh, which these weren't) were also higher in salt (OK, that was largely guesswork) than the salty snack in the article - a bag of crisps at 0.5 g.

So where does all this excess salt come from, then? How about the mince pies? We're always hearing about the hidden sugar and salt in things like cakes (OK, more sugar than salt here). Tesco value mince pies (nutritional composition easily available online) have 0.1 g salt per pie, same as mine, and Greggs put 0.2 g salt in each pie. Maybe the houmous, then? Tesco come top for information, again, and have 1.2 g salt per 100 g houmous. After Tesco, most of the search results were about soil structure. Anyway, there's some added salt that I didn't have, but it's hardly going to push me into dangerous levels of salt consumption. It must be the main meal then. I have 1.7 g in mine - do people eat meals with a lot more salt than that? I don't know.

I'm honestly baffled as to where all this excess salt is coming from. Do you have any idea how much salt you eat? If you can be bothered to write a day's food diary, I'd be really interested to know what you find.


  1. I'd be interested to see what my salt intake is. It's not something I'd ever worried about excessively for my family, because like you I add most of the salt we eat.

    I do remember seeing this article in my parents newspaper though, which said how salty many coffee shop cakes are. I was shocked, not least because a scone would be the kind of thing I'd go for/encourage my children to choose if I were in a tea shop. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1323002/The-scone-thats-salty-Big-Mac.html
    At 2.1g, that's a significant chunk of your daily allowance, and how many people get a cake with their daily take away coffee? Quite a lot, I'd imagine.

    I'm a dinner supervisor a couple of days a week at my local primary school in a class of 6 year olds. Very few don't have a lunch box full of individually wrapped portions of fromage frais, cake, chocolate spread filled pancake or brioche, crisps, Dairy Lea dunkers, Laughing cow triangles,cereal bars (nice crunchy healthy ones and those marshmallowy ones) dried fruit sweets, jelly, cheese string etc etc. (Those that don't eat strawberries and blueberries all year round. And olives, which are clearly just as salty as the crisps.)
    Apart from the fact the children spend the whole of lunch asking me to open packets, I always think about the amount of rubbish each school child must throw away after lunch each day.

    As far as salt content is concerned, looking quickly, a cheese string up to 0.75g, a packet of Wotsits is 0.35g, a Rice Crispy Square is 0.3g and a packet of ready salted crisps is 0.5g.

    When you then add in their ham filling in their shop-bought bread sandwich (see below. And I once did a quick survey and found 18 out of 20 children had ham in their sandwich that lunchtime!) or their shop-bought sausage roll, their fish fingers (3 fish fingers = 0.7g salt, apparently) and chips or whatever for tea, their shop bought cake/biscuit snacks and their cornflakes which famously contain more salt than a packet of crisps for breakfast, it's easy to see most of these children will be heading over their 3g/day limit.

    I'm only pointing out shop-bought items, because I think that's where most people have no idea of the salt content, not out of any form of domestic snobbery. My children love bagels, which I buy, and I have no idea how much salt is in them. I'd also like to say that my children (and I) love crisps and olives and they eat them. Just not every day, or actually even every week.

    I found this article about bread too:

    I've used children's diets as an example because that's what I see, but if their parents are eating similar amounts of packaged foods, with added salt in the breakfast cereal, bread, shop/deli sandwiches, cakes etc etc, I think you can see where it adds up.
    You can avoid overtly salty foods, but then find it in your cake or bread. And then there are the jars of pasta and curry sauces for tea. Most of my colleagues were unaware you could easily make a carbonara sauce from scratch, and those that were used cream cheese instead of egg, which has up to 0.5g per 30g serving, on top of the bacon and parmesan they'd add.

    Sorry, v long comment! I hope it doesn't sound like too much of a rant, but it just amazes me how much people rely on the industrialised food system. They now think everything has to be bought, unless you are prepared to knit your own yogurt.

  2. I have very mixed feelings about the whole salt thing. Personally, I am a salt-a-holic. I LOVE it and generally crave it on most things I eat. But I also have chronically low blood pressure, and it seems like if I don't eat enough salt I get so light headed that I nearly pass out every time I stand up.

    So I dunno... I actually sometimes take salt supplements in the summer time when I just have real difficulties staying hydrated otherwise.

    But I hear over and over how bad it is for you, so I really don't know what to think. I read an interesting book on the subject about 10 years ago: http://www.watercure.com/

    This fellow's theory was that high sodium levels in the bloodstream are not the cause of the problem, rather, they are a symptom of chronic dehydration because your body retains salt when it is dehydrated. He advocates drinking nearly a gallon of water per day and eating basically as much salt as you want. I don't know how much veracity there is to his claims, but I do know that I feel MUCH better when I follow his suggestions.

  3. Wow, Hazel, thanks for all that information! I see how a packed lunch including cheese, ham sandwich, crisps and cake can add up pretty quickly. As you say, it's the shop-bought items that have the hidden salt, not home made things.

    I'm not particularly trying to limit my salt intake - I was just interested to see that a moderate intake comes as a side effect of making all my food myself.

    I followed the references from the Daily Mail articles to Consensus Action on Salt and Health (I wonder who thought that acronym was a good idea?) They have an extensive website and do regular product surveys, which are really interesting (and write Daily Mail-friendly press releases, evidently). They did a one year updatethe scone story, but the Daily Mail obviously wasn't as interested in "The snack industry is listening and making some good progress" as the original shock-horror story.

    EcoCatLady, I also have very low blood pressure, so perhaps I should be careful of letting my salt intake get too low.

    I had a look at the book you linked, and I have to say, I'm very sceptical. Firstly, I'm generally sceptical of the "Drink more water" bandwagon, but that may be a red herring. I'm suspicious of anyone who bangs on about how scientific their work is - real scientists don't do that (and I've seen that tactic employed by someone who got her work published in a high-profile scientific journal by threatening to sue them when they rejected it). Anyone who starts, "I set out to scientifically prove..." is no scientist. Scientists should always set out with open minds (they don't, but they should).

    Nonetheless, I pushed on as far as claims that antihistamines are used as pain killers - not in the UK, as far as I know, and I couldn't find any evidence of this practice with a bit of googling - and that histamine is involved in management of water within the body - again I couldn't find any independent source of information supporting this claim, and no reference was given in the text.

    I did learn a lot about histamine in the process, which was very interesting, but having to go off and research every dubious claim was making this book very slow going, and I couldn't really be bothered to go any further.

    I'm not sure where that leaves us on the salt/water question - pretty much where we were before, I guess. I believe that drinking lots of water counters high levels of salt (but don't overdo it - this is how water poisoning occurs), but I'm not sure whether that means you can mitigate excess salt by drinking lots of water. On the other hand, the main concern about too much salt seems to be high blood pressure, which is obviously not a problem for you (or me).

  4. Ha! Well, there you go. I, needless to say, never bothered to check out any of the man's claims. Hmmmm.... maybe it's the old water placebo effect.

    Anyhow, I suppose some of this has to depend on factors such as the climate you live in, how much you exercise and sweat etc. At the moment it's so dry here that my skin hurts.Probably doesn't help that it's below zero (Fahrenheit) and the furnace has been running all day.

    It's making me pine for your new heating system, although to be honest I can't imagine trying to tackle a project of that scope. I've spent the past week trying to build a kitty tree for my fe-lions and it's just about done me in!

  5. I didn't read the follow on story about the scone- I must do that. I was rushing to finish commenting before the children have to get ready for school. I can imagine the Daily Mail didn't make such a fuss about that story. I have to say anytime I normally read it, I get to the end of the paper and realise that I didn't want to know any of the information I've just learnt...

    From knowledge in my previous life, I would say that it's quite possible that an individual could excrete more salt than the general population. People with renal illness usually have their salt (and potassium, etc) intake severely limited because they can't get rid of the excess quickly enough. It stands to reason there are people at the other end of the spectrum. Dietary guidelines are just that- guidelines for the population as a whole.

    I'm sceptical about the water drinking claims too; as far as I know the standard 8/glasses a day was a completely arbitary figure, and whilst adequate hydration is essential to health, if drinking only tea, for example, caused dehydration, my inlaws would be shrivelled prunes by now! And I've never heard of anti histamines being prescribed as painkillers in the UK. Sedatives by parents buying them over the counter, possibly, but not as analgesia. I must have a look at that link.

  6. ECL, I don't expect everybody to check all the claims in everything they read, but... well, I do. At least, I do if it's something I'm a bit sceptical of to start with, and if warning bells are rung, and if the claim doesn't fit with other stuff I know...

    Climatic (is that the right word?) differences... yeah... there's not much danger of excessive salt loss through sweating around these parts (some of the UK has snow today, but we just have Welsh drizzle).

    Heating system - I must get back to that, both finishing the work and writing about it.

    Hazel, ditto - I didn't mean to criticise you for not doing your research, I just thought you might be interested in the follow on story. And never let it be said that I'd miss a cheap jibe about the Daily Mail, or indeed newspapers in general.

    I'm sure you're right about individual salt retention falling on a spectrum, with people at both extremes.

    The 8 glasses a day can be traced back to a report on how much water the human body uses per day in total. That includes all sorts of drinks as well as water in food. I once had a conversation with a friend who said that drinking tea would cause dehydration:

    Me: "So if you drank nothing but tea you'd die of thirst?"
    "That's right"
    "You couldn't really test that theory, could you?"
    "Yes, it's perfectly testable"
    "No, I meant ethically..."

  7. This could be a bunch of b.s., but I have read a few things that claim that the type of salt matters, much like grains. There are salts that still have many minerals that are healthier, but they are more costly than the white table salt that is used by most everyone.

    But really, I think pretty much all food stuff can be boiled down to: Don't eat processed, packaged foods. They suck.

  8. I refer to the CASH website on this one - salt is salt. The fancy salts don't have 'many' minerals, they have minute proportions of stuff that isn't NaCl. If you want the other minerals, look to other food sources. Expensive does not mean healthy (to my surprise, that was the conclusion of several of their product surveys, too. Mostly the lower salt option was also the cheaper one).

    Too right about processed foods.

  9. I am no where near as home-made as you guys and yet I still find it hard to exceed the dose based on what info is given on the packets.

    Today I had the following:
    Cereal - Be Natural nutty flakes 300mg
    Tea x 5 cups approx 0.25mg
    bread x 3 slices (pumpkin and sesame) 516 mg total
    Butter 180mg
    Vegemite (like marmite only veggie) 350mg
    Jacket Potato 20mg ish
    Baked beans (tinned, cheap brand) 420mg
    Cheese (cheddar) 200mg
    Banana trace
    6 x lychees trace

    TOTAL approx 1986 mg

    I may also eat some crisps as I sit down in front of the telly but even eating the whole 175g bag will only add another 1200mg.....

    And that's also without trying. I thought I'd be way over but I guess not.

    Very interesting.


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