Many people don’t realise just how much salt they are consuming on a day to day basis and think just because they are not adding much, if any, at the table or when cooking than they must be doing ok. If you think that too, then you’re amongst the 71% of other Victorians who still believe cutting salt from the shaker is what is saving them too from dangerous levels of salt.

But the unfortunate truth is that about 75% of the salt Australians are consuming actually comes from packaged foods. And a lot of the time these foods don’t even taste salty!

The most powerful way to cut salt from your diet is undoubtedly at the supermarket shelves. But trying to decide what is healthy when walking down the supermarket aisles can seem really daunting. Some products contain so many phrases, graphs and symbols that you are left baffled about what the product actually is, let alone whether it is any good for you. Food manufacturers want you to buy their product, and to do this they often try to make the product seem healthier than it really is. This is why learning to understand food labels is so important.

The best way to decode a food label is to check the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP). The NIP is regulated by the government, so the information in it should always be correct. You can usually find the NIP on the back of a food package, and a standard one looks something like this:

Label reading

NIPs have two columns, but for the purpose of finding out how salty a food is, the ‘per 100g’ column is the best place to start. This way you can compare two similar options side by side and work out which is a better choice.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, and it’s the sodium that can be bad for health. Sodium is always listed on the NIP, and it is shown in milligrams (mg). To be classified as ‘low salt’ a food has to have less than 120mg sodium/100g – and these are the best options. That being said, in some food categories you won’t find an option with such a low sodium level (like breads and cheeses). In this case, try to choose options with less than 400mg sodium/100g.

Best options <120mg/100g
Good options <400mg/100g
Compare lowest salt options >400mg/100g

 

Reading the NIP can be a little time consuming (especially while you are learning), but if you are running really short on time there are still quick ways to choose lower salt products. Look out for products labelled ‘low salt’, ‘no added salt’ or ‘salt reduced’ as these should have less salt than similar variations. You can also try the FoodSwitch app – all you have to do is scan the barcode on the package and it will interpret the NIP for you as well as providing a list of similar products containing less salt!

Hopefully you now have more of a handle on how to read food labels and how to spot a particularly salty food. Remember, don’t trust your tastebuds – trust the label!