How much salt do we need? Are we getting too much? What are high salt foods and how can we avoid them? These are all questions that directly affect everyone with diabetes for the simple reason that high salt intakes can cause high blood pressure and this in turn can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Although the natural knee jerk reaction to this news is to reduce the salt added to our food during cooking or at the table, by far the largest contributor to salt intake in the western diet comes from  pre-prepared or processed foods that we buy.

Approximately 75% of the salt we eat comes from everyday foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, canned vegetables, soups, pasta sauces and processed meats such as hams and sausages. If you were a person prone to high blood pressure it would be worthwhile noting the salt content in snacks such as crisps and salted nuts, pickled foods and cheese. The ultra healthy image of Japanese food may also be subject to critical scrutiny because of the high salt content of soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce.

So how much salt do you need? There are no lower limits but many organizations and institutions have published recommendations so as not to exceed an amount. These are especially relevant if you have high blood pressure and/or kidney disease. Lowering salt intake can prevent high blood pressure in those people at risk and although food labels are now commonplace sticking to the recommended guidelines are quite difficult for some people. At the present time salt intake targets are about 6 grams of salt per day. This is about one teaspoonful.

Limiting salt intake to a minimum level and way below the 6 grams per day level may have additional health benefits. This idea is gaining credence by population studies on blood pressure and salt intake in different parts of the world. You can contribute to lowering your salt intake by cutting back on processed and pre-prepared foods and by recognizing and limiting the salt contents of snack foods or specialist items such as soy sauce.

Most fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in salt. Fresh meat or poultry is lower in salt than bacon, hot dogs or sausages. Reducing dressings, dips and ketchup significantly reduces salt intake for those people who love to dollop them all over their food. Beware of hidden salt in some breads, pre-prepared soups, pasta sauces and pizza because there may be an appreciable amount in your diet.