How you can cut down on salt without sacrificing flavour

People with heart disease often need to reduce their salt intake. Here are some tips on how to cut down and still enjoy your food.

Salt is something our tongues were created to crave. Along with sweet, sour, bitter and umami, it's one of our traditional taste sensations. Unfortunately, Australians consume far too much of it on average – around 9 grams a day, more than double what we should be eating!

According to the Heart Foundation, diets high in salt can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) and increase risk of heart disease. It is recommended that all Australians lower their salt intake to less than 6 grams a day (about one-and-a-half teaspoons).

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or heart disease, however, you may need to cut that even further, to less than 4 grams – or one teaspoon – a day.

This can be challenging as salt is often hidden in everyday foods. However, Bupa dietitian Rosalyn D'Angelo shares some tips on how you can reduce your salt intake without losing out on flavour.

Read the labels

“About 75% of the salt we eat comes from processed food,” she says. That basically means anything in a packet, jar, tin or bag. Salt content is listed on the nutrition panel on all packaged food as sodium (salt is made up of sodium and chloride), and it's important to scrutinise the numbers and understand what they mean.

“If your doctor or dietitian has advised you to follow a low-sodium diet, it’s important to choose foods with 120mg of sodium per 100g or less. Look for foods labelled 'no added salt' or 'low salt'. Or choose 'reduced salt' products if these are the lowest-salt options available.” Using the SaltSwitch filter on the FoodSwitch app can also help you find lower-salt foods more easily at the supermarket. 

Cook from scratch

“If you prepare fresh, whole foods at home, you can control what goes into the food you eat. Make your own soups with homemade stock, or create your own pizzas with shredded chicken breast and plenty of vegetables,” says D'Angelo.

Experiment with herbs and spices

Avoid adding salt during cooking and at the table. Instead, D'Angelo recommends using the following as seasoning alternatives:

  • Rosemary is delicious on roast lamb, fish, chicken, potatoes and vegetables and goes well with thyme, parsley and bay leaf.
  • Coriander is fantastic in Indian cuisine and in Mexican food – think fresh guacamole and salsa, or spicy red lentil soup with plenty of fresh coriander and a bit of pepper.
  • Basil and tomato are a match made in heaven, whether in homemade meatballs and pasta sauce or a simple salad of tomato, basil, mozzarella and olive oil. Basil also combines well with oregano, thyme, garlic and pepper.
  • Chilli is an excellent way to flavour fish and goes well in dishes like stir fries, salads and salsas.
  • Garlic is great with olive oil and onion in sauces and pastas.
  • Fruits like sliced apple, pomegranate, pineapple and orange can really brighten up a salad and boost the flavour.
  • Lemon juice, crushed garlic and olive oil becomes a refreshing salad dressing.
  • Balsamic vinegar and olive oil also makes a simple, versatile salad dressing.

Going low-salt may not be easy at first, but D'Angelo urges you to keep trying “Your taste buds will get used to the lower salt content and won’t miss it after a few weeks.”
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