‘PASS THE SALT' is one of the commonest requests at Irish dinner tables.
But did you know that grinding, shaking and sprinkling could be endangering your health?
The potential consequences of high salt intake are high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Lower the pressure
High blood pressure is the main cause of stroke. It narrows your blood vessels and makes clotting more likely. Lowering your salt intake will bring down your blood pressure and help to protect you.
You might think you don't eat much salt but salt is often hidden in the food we eat. Up to 80pc of dietary salt can come from processed foods, says Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
“On average, the Irish adult consumes 9.56g of salt per day, which adds up to 3.5kg of salt in one year,” says Prof Reilly. “The recommended dietary allowance for salt in adults is 4g per day, which would be 1.5kg per year per adult. So we are consuming at least twice as much salt per year than we should be.”
Research shows that cutting your salt intake by up to 3g a day is enough to cause a measurable fall in blood pressure, reducing your risk of stroke by 13pc and heart disease by 10pc.
How salty is your diet?
Here's a salt-laden daily diet that many of us might consume without realising the harm we're doing: start with breakfast cereal, have soup and bread for lunch and finish the day with a ready-meal. If this sounds like an average menu for you, then chances are you're shooting through your 6g daily target.
All of these processed foods can contain high amounts of salt — a cup of instant soup can have as much salt as two cups of seawater.
Some foods that are high in salt don't taste very salty because they have lots of sugar in them too. Processed meats, bread and sauces are the main culprits. Here's a handy guide for salt content: More than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g of sodium) is high.
Less than 0.3g of salt per 100g (or 0.1g of sodium) is low.
Treat it as a treat
Of course, some foods will always be high in salt, that's just the way they are. The trick is to be aware of this and use them in moderation. Bacon, ham, olives, prawns and anchovies are great treats but if you eat too much you'll ratchet up your daily salt count. Soy sauce and stock cubes are two more offenders.
Spice up your kitchen
If you do cut back on your salt intake, you might miss it for a while but that's just because you've got your taste buds hooked on the stuff.
You'll soon start to notice a wider range of flavours in food as your taste buds adjust to having less salt. Black pepper, herbs, garlic, onion powder, spices or lemon juice can add the flavour you crave. After about eight weeks, you'll begin to enjoy those subtle flavours that your salty intake was masking.