As you liberally sprinkle salt on your chip buttie, before splodging on some ketchup, bear in mind that it’s not just the fat contents of your snack that could be harmful.
As well as the salt on your chips, just two slices of certain types of bread can provide nearly half a person’s daily recommended salt intake of 6g, and some ketchups and sauces could add another half a gram.
Consuming so much salt regularly can lead to numerous health problems – including cancer and heart disease.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has just revealed that one in seven cases of stomach cancer in the UK could be prevented, if everyone cut their daily salt intake to 6g – a level teaspoon’s worth.
Salt is made up of 40 per cent sodium, which is an essential mineral, and 60 per cent chloride. While a small amount is essential for the body to function normally, adults need just 1g a day (a large pinch) and children need even less.
However, the average daily salt consumption in the UK is well above the recommended amount – and the campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) warns that almost everyone eats too much.
According to CASH, bread is responsible for a fifth of our daily salt intake, and one in four loaves contains as much salt per slice as a packet of crisps.
‘One loaf of bread can have half as much salt as another,’ says CASH’s campaign director Katharine Jenner, a public health nutritionist. ‘But it’s difficult to know that without looking at the label and understanding it.’
Other culprits include some types of ketchup and sauces, processed meats, smoked fish, convenience foods like pizza, pasties and ready meals, and salty snacks like crisps and salted nuts.
The WCRF is calling for a standardised ‘traffic light’ system on the front of food and drink packaging, to clearly flag up salt, fat and sugar levels. In the meantime, it’s important for people to read food labels before they buy, says Jenner.
Barbara Crick, who runs Emsworth Cookery School, agrees. But she adds that as well as being vigilant with labels it’s a good idea to cook as much as possible from scratch.
‘Then you can control what’s going into your food. I find making bread quite therapeutic, all that kneading. And bread makers are pretty good and really convenient, it’s just a case of putting in the ingredients. Plus any freshly made food is going to taste better.’
Barbara explains that a lot of packaged foods contain more salt than is necessary to act as a preservative and flavour enhancer, but adds that products vary so it pays to understand the label.
‘If you’re making your own food you really don’t need to add that much salt and you can use herbs and spices instead,’ she says.