“It can change the quality, texture and
taste,” says Anna Farmer, a researcher
at the University of Alberta.
Salt is a general term commonly used
to refer to sodium chloride. The world has
thousands of salts and many different
types of sodium, but in common terms,
salt means sodium chloride.
Health Canada says 1,500 mg of
sodium a day “is adequate to promote
good health” in the average Canadian.
It currently recommends adults limit
sodium to less than 2,300 mg a
day and is working to reduce that
amount. Nonetheless, most Canadian
adults consume about 3,400 mg of
sodium a day.
Tracking your sodium intake is best
achieved through reading nutritional
labels. Farmer says meals and snacks
can be broken down into: three meals
a day, each containing 500 to 600 mg
of salt, and one snack, with no more
than 300 mg of salt. Ideally, you’ll want
to choose foods with five per cent or
less of the recommended daily value of
sodium, or 120 to 140 mg per serving.
For a lot of us, 75 per cent of our daily
sodium intake is from processed foods,
most of which are loaded with salt.
Some of the worst offenders are
sandwich meats, soups, salted snacks
(chips, nuts, popcorn, etc.), some sports
drinks, pizza, frozen entrees, soy sauce,
steak sauce, fish sauce and salad
dressing. Bread and cheese also have
Unsalted food doesn’t have to be
bland. You can kick up flavour with
lemon, lime or orange (juice or zest),
garlic, pepper, hot peppers, cumin,
ginger, sage, savory, mint, rosemary,
turmeric and vinegar.
She recommends a serving contain
five per cent or less of the daily sodium
value—120 to 140 mg.
“Some soups will have 877 mg, for
Reduce salt, add flavour
example. That’s more than half the
recommended daily intake, so maybe put
that one back.”
Label reading is not a widespread
practice for most people in our busy
world, so Health Canada has set an
interim target of 2,300 mg a day of
sodium for the average adult—compared
to the 3,400 mg a day Canadians
currently consume—and is working
with the food industry to reduce salt in
Christiansen says reducing salt doesn’t
have to mean sacrificing flavour.
She suggests being creative with other
tasty ingredients. For example, use herbs
in combinations you hadn’t thought of
before. Mint, rosemary, savoury, tumeric,
cumin—dash them on.
“Concentrate on adding other flavours
like garlic and lemon juice. Pepper seems
to help a lot,” Christiansen says. “Ginger
is really good to add to Asian or Asian-
She adds: “Be adventurous, try a new
spice every week.”
Or try commercial spice mixes with no
Salt intake is also difficult to control
when dining out.
“People tend not to think about it
when they go to restaurants, but if you
eat out two or three times a week, it can
really add up,” says Christiansen.
Kicking the salt habit takes about six to
seven weeks. Once you go that long on
a salt-reduced diet, going back to your
regular habit will feel like overload, says
Anna Farmer, assistant professor of
public health nutrition at the University
of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural,
Life and Environmental Sciences and
an appointee to the School of Public
Health, has studied Canadians’ attitudes,
knowledge and beliefs about salt.
“What stood out for me, and was
something of a concern, was the health
literacy of young consumers,” she says.
Farmer found young people, including
young families, were unaware of the
health consequences of too much salt,
and therefore were not as willing to
explore and moderate their diets.
“It makes sense, though. Young families
are busy, not really able to read every label
or pre-plan every meal,” she says.
They also see little in the way of
immediate or recognizable payoffs for
Like so much in health, it’s not what
you get now, but what you gain later.
Cutting back on salt early in life guards
against hypertension and its ensuing
health problems as you get older.
“It’s definitely difficult for consumers
to make choices for something they’re
not feeling,” says Farmer.
In 2010, the federal government’s
Sodium Working Group released
the Sodium Reduction Strategy for
Canada encouraging food and beverage
manufacturers to reduce salt during
production. Some have, voluntarily,
although it’s a significant change for them
because salt doesn’t just add flavour. It
can also contribute to a product’s texture
and act as a preservative.
Those characteristics, Campbell says,
have a cost and studies suggest an
estimated $2 billion savings to Canada’s
health-care system if salt intake was
reduced to the target levels.
“We have to change the way we think
because our diets are killing us,” he says.
Knowing your salt