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Too much salt can leave more than just a bad taste

We may think most of our salt is added at the table, but this is not the case, says Suzanne Campbell

We may know that processed foods contain lots of salt, but it's still a shock to hear that a London restaurant is selling a pizza that is saltier than sea water.

The pepperoni pizza was found by UK health authorities to contain 10.57 grams of salt, making it saltier than the Atlantic ocean.

Their survey of supermarket and takeaway restaurants found that takeaway pizzas contain up to two-and-a-half times more salt than the average supermarket pizza, with half of them containing over 6g of salt -- your maximum daily allowance.

Pizza is one of Ireland 's most popular foods, with 40pc of us eating it at least once a week. Recent research by Safefood, a north/south body that promotes food safety, found that a person eating an 'average' 12-inch pizza can consume more than their entire daily requirement of calories, saturated fat and salt in one sitting.

Not all pizza is bad for your health, and neither is salt. In small quantities salt is something our body needs to function. But the amounts we need to keep us healthy are tiny compared to what we are currently eating. In Ireland, research shows that we are eating over 9g of salt a day, when the recommended daily amount is 6g -- no more than a teaspoon.

And even if we try to cut out adding salt to our plate, it's frustrating to hear that our shopping trolleys are already brimming over with it. A Safefood survey found that 80pc of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods.

Salt encourages the body to hold on to water. This increased "loading" of our blood vessels leads to higher blood pressure which can put us at risk of a stroke or heart attack. So if we want to look after our hearts, what foods should we avoid for their high volumes of "hidden" salt?

Soups in particular can have a lot of added salt, with an average half tin of soup containing almost 37pc of your daily recommended salt intake. One cup of instant soup alone can have the same amount of salt as two cups of seawater.

"We tend to think of soup as a healthy option but many of us don't consider the salt content in soups we eat outside the home," says Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood. "There is also a misconception that most of our salt is added at the table but in reality, the majority of salt in ourdiet is from eating processed foods."

It's also surprising that foods we may think of as being sweet also contain salt -- the average muffin has almost 10pc of your daily recommended salt intake. Two slices of white bread contain almost 15pc of your daily intake and just one rasher of bacon contains a fifth of it.

For consumers, food labels can be confusing as salt is often labelled as "sodium content". Sodium amounts are smaller than 'salt' as 1.6 grams of sodium equal 4 grams of salt.

Salt is mostly sodium, a mineral that occurs naturally in foods. But sodium is what can cause your blood pressure to increase. Other forms of sodium are also present in food -- MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another example which can be all too plentiful in Chinese food and takeaways.

And while we may think upmarket sea salt is more healthy, it contains the same sodium levels as table salt, which is a more processed product. It's best to stay away from both options and get into the habit of leaving the salt in the cupboard, and not in the middle of the table.

Irish Independent