Making lower in salt choices using food labels

The UK food labelling system is used to help consumers make healthy food choices. The information found on food labels informs consumers about the nutritional content of the food product, ingredients it contains and information about allergens.

When making an informed choice on food, based on its salt content, there are a few things to look out for.

Why do we need to check the salt content of food?

Salt is our biggest source of sodium. While sodium is an essential nutrient, it is often consumed in excess leading to high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk for heart disease and stroke – the leading causes of premature death in the UK. In the UK, foodstuffs declare salt content rather than sodium content and this information can be found on the back of the product on the nutrition information box. It is important that you monitor your daily intake of salt and current guidelines state you should consume no more than 6g a day.

What is on the nutrition information box?

This information is on the back of the food packet. It contains energy, carbohydrate, sugar, fat, saturated fat, protein, fibre, salt, and sodium values. These values are given for 100g and a serving of the food. To help you stay within the daily recommended limit, you can try to choose foods that are lower in salt.

What is front-of-pack labelling?

Look out for “traffic light” labelling. Some food manufacturers use a “traffic light” system to indicate the salt content of their products. Green means low, amber means medium, and red means high. Aim to choose foods with primarily green or amber labels.

How else can I recognise that there may be a lot of salt in the food I am choosing?

Looking at the ingredient list on the back of the packet also can give you a steer as to whether the food is high in sodium. Ingredients are put in the order of relevance, meaning the one found in the most significant amount will come first. Aside from salt, there are other sources of sodium contributing to a higher “salt” content and these include:

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This flavour enhancer is often added to processed foods, such as soups, sauces, and snack foods, and is very high in sodium.
  • Sodium nitrate (E251) and sodium nitrite (E250): These preservatives are often added to cured meats, such as bacon, ham, and hot dogs, and are very high in sodium.
  • Sodium phosphate (E339): This ingredient is often used to improve the texture and moisture content of processed meats, such as chicken nuggets and sausages, and can be high in sodium.
  • Sodium benzoate (E211): This preservative is often added to processed foods, such as soft drinks, and can be high in sodium.
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda): This ingredient is often used in baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, and can contribute to the sodium content of these foods.

What foods are typically high in sodium?

As well as salt, other foods can be high in sodium. Understanding which these are can further help you to make healthier food choices.

  • Soy sauce is a very commonly used ingredient in Asian cuisines, especially Chinese, but it is very high in sodium.
  • Cheese is another high-sodium food found in many dishes as a topping or sauce ingredient. All cheese is high in sodium.
  • Processed meats such as bacon, ham and salami are high in sodium. For overall health, these foods are not recommended to be eaten regularly.
  • Pickled foods like olives, gherkins and other pickled vegetables are high in sodium as they are prepared in brine.

Pre-packaged food in the UK has a legal requirement to be nutritionally labelled. There is lots of information to help you to make a healthy food choice when trying to reduce the amount of salt (and therefore sodium) you eat in your diet.