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Low salt diets: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Why is it used?

A low salt diet is recommended for someone who has high blood pressure. It can also be recommended in other situations such as diseases of the kidney or liver. High blood pressure if left untreated could cause a stroke. 70% of people who have had a stroke have had high blood pressure. High blood pressure also causes coronary artery disease by hardening the arteries, and it can also lead to liver and kidney problems.

High salt intakes may also be responsible for demineralisation of the bones and causing osteoporosis. Excess salt is 'leeched' out of the bones and excreted in the urine; reducing salt intake is a useful strategy in reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Stomach cancer has been linked to high intakes of salt, and it is also thought that reducing salt may improve the symptoms of asthma.

High salt intakes are also linked with fluid retention. Decreasing salt intake can cause a fluid loss of up to 2 litres (4 pints). Women with a tendency to swelling and feelings of bloatedness may feel much better by reducing their salt intake.

Who would require the diet?

High blood pressure can be caused by factors such as being overweight, heavy drinking, having a high salt intake, lack of exercise, and age (older people are more susceptible). Also people who are of African/Afro-Caribbean origin are also more susceptible. Some of the risk factors cannot be altered, such as age and family history, but diet, weight and salt can be altered and are important.

Medication is available to help reduce blood pressure, but many people find this not always acceptable as the side effects and sometimes the poor control of medication can mean that keeping to a low salt diet and avoiding excess weight as being far the most acceptable treatment.

What is the diet and how does it work?

The simplest thing is to avoid adding salt to food when it is being cooked. This includes sea and rock salt as well as traditional salt.

Also avoid highly salted flavourings such as stock cubes, gravy granules, and soya sauces.

Foods such as crisps, salted nuts, savoury snacks and soups are high in salt, but many other manufactured products also have a high salt content, which is not always realised from reading the label. Food labels give the amount of sodium in grams. It may not seem very much, but if we are thinking of how much salt is present, then we must multiply the sodium by 2.5 to give the correct amount of salt. Therefore a label which says that it gives 1 gram of sodium per portion will provide 2.5 grams of salt. We should aim for an intake of no more than 6 grams per day.

Fruits, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, milk, yogurts are all naturally low in salt and can be eaten without concern. Foods that have salt as a preservative, such as hams, salted fish or cheese can be eaten but only in modest quantities. Breads and most breakfast cereals contain moderately high levels of salt, but these are not normally restricted.

Reducing salt intake can be quite difficult; try cutting the amount added to food by half, for a few weeks, and then by half again and so on until it is not necessary to add salt at all. This is the easiest way to start. Use herbs and spices as alternative flavourings.

Will the diet harm me?

No. There isn't any reason why the diet should cause any problems except in very exceptional conditions. In very hot countries, excessive sweating may cause more sodium to be lost through the skin. This is only a problem with people who have exceptionally low intakes, for example, restrictive diets where there is a very low intake of salt.

What else do I need to know?

There are a number of salt substitutes available in the shops. They still contain sodium, but in much lower quantities. Potassium is used as a substitute for some of th