Should I lower my salt intake?

Excerpts from the Observer Food Monthly collaboration by Dr Ali Khavandi and Dara Mohammadi

Straight talking about sodium chloride

Let’s get one thing straight. Whether your salt has been coaxed from a cave by a Tibetan monk or extracted from brine by a man called Gary, it’s always exactly the same thing. It’s a compound called sodium chloride. It’s the sodium in salt that’s associated with high blood pressure (the only health concern with salt) if anyone tells you that fancy salts like Sel Gris, Fleur de Sel, Hawaiian sea salt or Pink Himalayan salt are any healthier than the ordinary table stuff you can tell them to follow their salt and — to quote Stewart Lee and a popular internet meme against ill-informed pomposity — ’get in the sea’.

The matter of whether or not you should lower your salt intake is less cut and dried. Some people’s blood pressure is more sensitive to salt than others’. Even scientists are divided about how to interpret the evidence on an individual level, but to get bogged down with the scientific controversies would be to miss the point: salt makes food taste good.

The first thing that MasterChef judge Michel Roux Jr comments on is a dish’s seasoning. Poor Rick Stein must live in constant fear of finally being caught by the salt police he mentions so regularly. Nobody has ever won a Michelin star with a salt-free menu.

The relationship between salt intake and blood pressure is complicated says Anthony Heagerty, Professor of Medicine at the University of Manchester. “Lowering salt is advisable on a population level because many people will respond favourably to an overall lower salt intake,” he says, “but teasing out the effect on an individual is more difficult. An unhealthy diet, excess weight and alcohol play a large part in an individual’s risk of hypertension, so if you’re concerned about blood pressure you can lower your salt, but it’s perhaps more important to focus on your overall food and alcohol intake.”

Fruit and veg rich in potassium, such as mushrooms, spinach and bananas, can help lower blood pressure. Look out for the mountains of salt used to make low-quality processed foods and snacks more palatable. Using salt in a sensible way can make the food you cook at home taste better, and, importantly, give you a better handle on what you’re putting in your body.

Back to top