7 must-know signs you’re eating too much salt – and how to cut down

Concerned you’re consuming too much salt? Here’s how to know, with tips on ways to reduce salt in your diet and improve your health.

New data reveals we’re consuming too much salt – more than we should – and it could be harming our health. Nutritional analysis carried out by Action on Salt, found half of pizzas surveyed in Britain contain as much (or more) salt as we should be eating in an entire day.  

Meanwhile, the latest figures show the average person in the UK is eating 8.4g (around one and a half teaspoons) of salt per day – over 2g more than the recommended maximum of 6g (around one teaspoon). And according to a YouGov survey, commissioned by Season with Sense, nine in 10 people don’t know what the maximum daily recommended intake is. 

Eating too much salt can lead to raised blood pressure and increase our risk of developing chronic diseases. Research from the British Medical Journal showed increasing salt intake by just 1g (three pinches) per day is associated with a 23% higher risk of stroke and a 14% higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Other research has shown that reducing salt intake by 1g a day could save 4,000 lives a year in the UK. 

Salt shaker next to the word 'salt', made out of salt, on a blue background.Credit: Shutterstock/ADragan

TV GP and public health advocate Dr Sarah Jarvis said: “When it comes to talking about what we eat and its impact on our health, sugar is regularly at the forefront of our minds. It may come as a surprise then, that it’s excess salt we really need to tackle.  

“This data paints a worrying picture about the UK’s relationship with salt. The good news is the power is in our hands to change that through small, simple changes like tracking our salt intake.”  

With Salt Awareness Week on May 15 – 21, it’s the ideal time to start thinking about your salt intake in order to protect your health.


What is the difference between salt and sodium? 

Salt is often referred to as sodium, but they aren’t the same thing. Salt is sodium chloride – a crystal-like compound used as a food seasoning or preservative. Sodium is a chemical element that makes up salt. 6g of salt is equivalent to 2.4g of sodium – so keep that in mind if you’re reading food labels that list “sodium” content rather than salt.

But how do you know if you’re consuming too much salt? We spoke to Dr Sunni Patel – a culinary medicine expert and nutritional therapist who has a PhD in the risk factors of type 2 diabetes and heart disease – about signs to look out for.  

How to know if your diet is high in salt

Signs you’re eating too much salt

  1. Bloating and/or swelling: “When you consume excessive amounts of salt, your body tries to dilute it by retaining water, which can lead to fluid retention and bloating,” says Patel. “This fluid build-up in your tissues can also lead to weight gain and swelling in parts of the body, such as the ankles, feet or hands.” 
  2. Increased thirst: Patel adds: “As your body tries to balance out the sodium levels by diluting it with water, this can also cause your cells to become dehydrated, making you feel thirsty.” 
  3. Dehydration: Excessive consumption can cause dehydration, Patel says, which can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion and fatigue. 
  4. Fatigue: “High levels of sodium can disrupt your body’s electrolyte balance, leading to fatigue and weakness,” explains Patel. 
  5. High blood pressure: Patel says: “Excessive salt in your diet is a leading cause of high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.” 
  6. Osteoporosis: “A high-salt diet can increase calcium excretion, leading to a loss of bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis,” says Patel. 
  7. Cognitive decline: Patel says: “It has been linked to decreased cognitive function and an increased risk of dementia in older adults.” 
Woman sprinkling salt into a dish.Credit: Shutterstock/Just Life

How to reduce salt in your diet

Advice for cutting down

Tracking salt intake can increase our awareness, help us to curb our high consumption and contribute to healthy eating, which can provide many benefits.

A new ‘Stick to Six’ challenge aims to champion this. The challenge, which has been created by Season with Sense (run by the salt substitute manufacturers LoSalt) and nutrition tracking app Nutracheck, encourages you to stick to the guideline of 6g of salt a day for seven days. 

To help with this, you can sign up for a free one-week trial of Nutracheck and track your daily food and drink intake to determine if your salt consumption is within recommended levels. (If you don’t cancel, you will be charged after the trial at £5.99 per month or £34.99 per year)

Alternatively, you can monitor your intake by checking food labels, keeping a food diary or weighing out portion sizes. Or try using the free NHS Food Scanner app to help you choose healthier options. Download it on Apple or Android devices. 

The challenge also aims to raise awareness of ‘secret’ salt in foods. 

‘Hidden’ salt in foods 

Many foods that we might not think of as salty can contain a lot of the white stuff. Some of the offenders include: 

  1. Pizza – Action on Salt recently surveyed 1,387 pizzas bought in shops, restaurants and takeaways and found that some had as much as double the recommended maximum of salt for an entire day. Takeaway and restaurant pizzas tended to have more salt than supermarket-bought ones, though even supermarket pizzas were still salty. 
  2. Bread – recent data revealed a slice of white bread could contain as much salt as a packet of crisps. There can be a lot of variation between loaves, so always check the label and choose the one with lowest salt per 100g. 
  3. Some breakfast cereals, particularly those that are sweetened or flavoured. 
  4. Processed deli meats such as ham, salami and turkey. 
  5. Many types of cheese, particularly processed cheese, blue cheese and hard cheeses. 
  6. Condiments, including ketchup, mustard and soy sauce. 
  7. Many canned soups and foods like baked beans. 
  8. Ready-made meals, either fresh or frozen. 

Patel, who is championing the ‘Stick to Six’ campaign, says: “This is an effective way to tackle high salt intake and improve the health of the nation.” 

Patel adds that reducing salt intake can provide many health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and boosting hydration. 

However, he says more awareness and education about the importance of reducing salt intake, as well as government support to increase the availability of lower-sodium foods, is needed to achieve this.

Person holding a magnifying glass over a food label showing if there's too much salt in the productCredit: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson

Patel offers more strategies for reducing salt intake.

  1. Read food labels: “By checking food labels, you can identify high-sodium foods and choose lower-sodium options. Look for foods labelled ‘low sodium’, ‘no added salt’ or ‘sodium-free,’” says Patel. “Food labels can also help you understand whether a food that appears to have a low salt content may actually be high in salt if the serving size is larger than you would typically consume.” 
  2. Cook at home: “This allows you to control the amount of salt you add to your meals.” 
  3. Start slowly: “Reduce your intake gradually to help your taste buds adjust to lower levels.” 
  4. Switch it up: “Try using herbs, spices and other seasonings, such as basil, oregano, garlic and ginger, to add flavour to your meals instead of salt,” he adds.  
  5. Limit processed foods: “These tend to be high in salt, so try to restrict how much you’re having. Instead, choose fresh, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.” 
  6. Rinse canned foods: “This can help to reduce the salt content of tinned foods, such as beans and vegetables, if they’re packaged in salted water (even better, choose ones that are in water without any added salt).”  
  7. Be mindful when eating out: “Restaurant meals tend to be high in salt, so opt for things that are grilled, baked or steamed instead of fried. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side and use them sparingly.” 
Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her


Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

Previously a freelance journalist, Gemma has written about topics including combatting the spread of health misinformation on social media, how to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet with a stoma and probiotics for gut health. Her work has been published within leading health journals such as Gastrointestinal Nursing and the British Journal of Healthcare Management, as well as multimedia health and lifestyle platforms, including calmmoment.com, StomaTips, Fit&Well, LiveScience and metro.co.uk.

She is the proud owner of two adorable guinea pigs who are far too spoilt and have become her writing companions. When she is not writing, Gemma can be found making a colourful and nutritious meal in the kitchen, walking in nature, at a yoga or spin class, swimming, doing an at-home YouTube workout, snuggling up with a self-help book or meditating. These experiences help to influence and shape the content she creates. And because life is all about balance, Gemma also enjoys having cocktails with friends.

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