Beware the excess salt that lurks in many a food item

Kiwis consume on average 9g of salt a day, three times more than we need for good health. Photo:...
Kiwis consume on average 9g of salt a day, three times more than we need for good health. Photo: Getty Images

While out for coffee the other day, I had a savoury muffin and found it disappointingly salty. Lunching at another cafe a few days earlier, I'd had a BLT sandwich that was so salty - both the bread and the bacon - it left me thirsty all afternoon.

Charmian Smith
Charmian Smith

I also find some of the artisan breads available at the Otago farmers market overly salty to taste, and it got me thinking about salt, especially as I've been trying to reduce my salt intake.

However, I'm not a salt-phobe. I use salt in cooking and enjoy the salty flavour of olives, focaccia sprinkled with olive oil and flaky salt, Marmite, peanuts and potato crisps. I'm well aware how salt can subtly enhance the flavour of food, reduce bitterness and has been used as a preservative for centuries.

In fact, in the past, processed meats such as corned beef or bacon hocks were much saltier than they are today, but people knew how to desalt them by soaking them in cold water. Most of us forget that this still needs to be done with some artisan products that are cured in old-fashioned ways.

While salt, or the sodium in it, is essential for keeping the fluids and electrolytes in our bodies balanced, too much salt is associated with an increased risk of raised blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Higher sodium intakes have also been shown to increase calcium losses in the urine, potentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis, according to the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation.

Kiwis consume on average 9g of salt a day, three times more than we need for good health. It's not so much the salt we add to food that is the culprit as the salt lurking hidden in processed foods, even though many manufacturers have reduced the salt content in their products, the foundation says.

Salt is hidden in many foods, including bread, cheese and, surprisingly, breakfast cereals, which you don't think of as salty. Salt can also be found in processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, sausages, as well as stocks, soups and instant noodles, crackers, crisps, Marmite and Vegemite, and food canned in brine.

The foundation recommends checking the nutrition panel - a low-salt option will have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food, medium-salt foods contain between 120mg and 600mg of sodium per 100g, and high-salt foods contain more than 600mg of sodium per 100g.

I mentioned to Laura and Allan Lewis, of Indigo Bakery at the market, that I found some of their breads a bit salty and that I was trying to cut down on my salt intake. They now produce a low-salt, sourdough loaf.

Laura said it surprised them that halving the amount of salt to about half a teaspoon per loaf didn't ruin the taste.

''The flavour is there and it doesn't seem to have affected the texture, but it has affected the structure a bit. The loaf is flatter and doesn't dome quite the same way,'' she said.

They are planning to experiment with reducing the salt in their grainy torpedo loaf that some people said they found too salty to the taste, she said.

''We are a small bakery and know a lot of our customers and are happy to adjust to what people are after.''


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