WHEN someone puts a plate of food down in front of you, what’s the first thing you reach for?
If it’s fish and chips, it’s almost second nature to lunge for the salt pot.
Every Sunday as a child I would watch my grandpa steadily pour salt all over his roast dinner before he had even tasted it. In fact, he did it with every single meal — soup, cheese sandwiches, shepherd’s pie — they would all be snowed under with the white stuff.
But my grandpa grew up in an era when poor families had to rely on salt to give their bland, rationed food a bit of flavour and so his palate became reliant on the familiar taste.
Sadly (through no fault of my mum’s), I am a sucker for salt too. I wouldn’t say I put it on every meal but I love to generously season anything I’m cooking, particularly meat and fish.
I also find it strange when people don’t have a salt and pepper pot on the table at dinner.
Every Christmas my dad berates my auntie and uncle for being “salt and pepper fascists” for denying him the option to season his own plate. But perhaps my auntie and uncle are trying to do us all a favour by dramatically reducing our salt intake.
Health experts warn that too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.
Today marks the end of National Salt Awareness Week (2014) — an annual drive to encourage people to reduce their salt intake.
This year the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has focussed on reducing salt intake among youngsters as well as highlighting the unnecessary levels of salt hidden inside our shopping baskets.
Louise Riley is a food and health adviser at the Crompton Health Centre and runs projects to help children and families in Bolton.
Ms Riley says the best place to start when it comes to reducing your salt intake is when preparing meals.
She explained: “It’s all about people being more aware of their daily salt intake and encouraging them to reduce the amount they consume each day.
“What most people don’t realise is how much there is in everyday foods such as cereal, bread, dairy products and ready meals. We want people to look at packaging and avoid foods that are really high in salt.
“If people are used to eating really salty food they need to try to add flavour to their food in a different way.
"For example, cooking with herbs and spices are good substitutes for salt. It takes a bit of time but people can change their taste preferences.”
According to new research by CASH, salt habits start at a young age.
New research shows the majority of children are eating more than the recommend daily allowance of salt with health experts calling on manufacturers to do more to make food healthier.
“We know that salt starts increasing the risk of high blood pressure in children starting at age one,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, study author and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“There needs to be a much greater effort to reduce salt in foods.”
Researchers studied the sodium content of 350 London children over a 24 hour period and asked them to keep a detailed food diary.
The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, found that most children are exceeding the recommended intake of salt on a daily basis.
Those aged between five and six are eating 0.75 grams more than the recommended daily amount while teens are exceeding the limit by around 1.5 grams, the research suggests.
The biggest culprits were cereals and breads, which accounted for 36 per cent of daily salt intake followed by meat products which provided 19 per cent and dairy accounted for 11 per cent.
Katharine Jenner, registered nutritionist and Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director of CASH added: “Children, particularly teenagers, are eating a worryingly high amount of salt.
“What is most surprising about this new study is that this salt is not coming from the salty foods you would expect teenagers to eat, such as crisps and snacks, which account for just five per cent of their daily salt intake, but from breads and cereal products, which do not taste salty but account for a third of their daily salt intakes.
"Children are not choosing to eat salty foods, the salt is hidden in there by the food industry and they must take it out.”
- For tips and advice on using less salt go to actiononsalt.org.uk