The NHS website says it right: “Most of us are eating more salt than we realise”.
According to the same site, three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in our favourite foods. The main reasons are, of course, flavour (essential for when vital nutrients are stripped out during manufacturing), but also preservation, which is why you see extraordinarily high levels of salt in packaged goods with a long shelf life.
However, knowing salt is in your food isn’t easy. Food with high levels of salt doesn’t always taste salty, and is often used to mitigate tart/sour flavours, or to highlight otherwise mild flavours (such as in cakes and cookies).
So, which foods have the most hidden salt in them? Here are some of the worst offenders.
1. Breads and rolls
According to the NHS, some breads are “as salty as seawater“.
2. Breakfast cereals
Perhaps the most surprising of the lot, breakfast cereals use fairly uninspiring ingredients and, thus, need salt to give it flavour.
With more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (nearly as much as a handful of chips), breakfast cereals have had us hoodwinked for decades.
Historically, corn and rice-based cereals are the worst for salt, so keep an eye out for hidden salt in your Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies.
3. Packaged sandwiches
Anyone hunting for a Meal Deal will be used to seeing the red “traffic light” symbol on the front of their packaged sandwich. So, why so much salt? The answer is quite horrifying: it isn’t real food.
Of course, we know the bread is high in salt (as above), but in these sandwiches, preservation is key. Thus lots of water and dextrose is pumped into the wheat, the sauces are packed with sugar and oil and the meats are stuffed with cornflour to take up more space in the sandwich. The result? A flavourless meal which relies on salt for it to taste of anything other than cardboard.
Many contain around 6g of salt – up to three times the amount of recommended RDA salt. This is thanks predominantly to the bread (see above), cheese, and cured meats (see below).
To keep salt levels down, opt for a vegetarian pizza instead.
5. Smoked & cured meats
Okay, so these DO taste salty, but we do still eat way too many of them (regardless of how many Diet Cokes you’ll be swigging after the fact).
Along with high levels of salt, smoked & cured meats such as sausages and bacon are high in cancer-causing carcinogens. For a similar-tasting meat, try chicken or turkey bacon and sausages. Graig Farm Organics do some of the nicest.
6. Pre-made soups
Since the 90s, canned soup has been vilified for its salt content. Today, consumers look to “fresh” soups, such as Covent Garden. However, the reality is they use just as much salt to keep the flavours locked in. What’s more, they’re often larger packages, meaning we eat more of it.
Make your own soup at home to regulate the salt content. My favourite? Courgette and Potato soup.
7. Tomato sauce
This includes ketchup, pasta sauce, cooking sauces, etc.
Along with high levels of sugar, pasta sauces are packed with salt, with many tomato sauces surpassing the RDA salt in just 7 teeny-tiny teaspoons.
Another sauce which isn’t on this list but is so obvious I didn’t think it needed mentioning: soy sauce. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
8. Baked goods
Baked goods we love to scoff, such as biscuits and cakes, might satisfy our sweet tooth, but did you know they are also super bad for our cholesterol too?
Biscuits, especially “luxury” and digestive varieties, are high in salt and often come with an amber “traffic light” symbol on their packaging.
The most concerning aspect is that 90 per cent of the biscuits found on supermarket shelves are high in salt. If you eat more than one pack every fortnight, you could be slowly increasing your risk of high blood pressure. Rice cakes all round, we think!