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How find low-salt foods

How find low-salt foods

Roughly 80% of your daily salt intake is hidden in the processed foods you eat. By choosing low-salt versions of your favourite foods when shopping, you can massively reduce the amount of salt you eat.

Did you know that isn't just ready meals that contain added salt? Many loaves of bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, soups, sauces, stock cubes and even pastries contain salt to enhance their flavour.

Danger foods: avoid or find a low-salt version

Certain foods are particularly high in salt and it is best to try to avoid them or find a low-salt alternative if you can:

  • Tomato ketchup
  • Tinned, packet and chiller cabinet soups
  • Beef, chicken and vegetable stock cubes
  • Gravy granules
  • Soy sauce
  • Dried fish
  • Mustard
  • Pickles
  • Curry powders
  • Ready made sandwiches
  • Microwave and frozen ready meals
  • Breaded chicken products
  • Sausages
  • Bacon
  • Ham

How to find low-salt versions of your favourite foods

All food manufacturers now display the amount of salt (or sodium - the blood pressure raising ingredient in salt) on their foods. And many of them now display this information as a "traffic light" on the front of the pack.

The best advice is to always "Go for green".

How "traffic lights" on foods work

The food traffic lights are always listed in the same order on a food's label: fats, saturated fats, sugar and salt.

The lights also tell you the amounts of the ingredients in 100g or 100ml of the food or in a single serving (if a recommended serving is more than 100g or 100ml). The amount in a single serving or portion is particularly useful if the food is a ready meal or soft drink where you will be consuming much more than 100g or 100ml and it will make up a major part of your daily food intake.

  • Green means ‘go for it’ or ‘eat freely’
  • Amber means ‘okay most of the time’ or ‘eat in moderation’
  • Red means ‘enjoy once in a while’ or ‘eat sparingly’.

So if a food has:

  • a red light, it is something you should be trying to cut down on. There’s no need to avoid it entirely, but it should only be a treat, eaten in smaller amounts or eaten only occasionally
  • an amber light is an okay choice most of the time, but you should try to go for foods with a green light for that ingredient some of the time
  • a green light, it is low in that ingredient. The more green lights a food has, the healthier it is.

When you go shopping, you will be buying many foods, all with different mixes of green, amber and red lights. The best thing is to get the overall balance right by choosing as many greens and ambers as possible.

Understanding foods that don't use "traffic lights"

Some manufacturers don't use the traffic light system, instead they simply list the amount of salt per 100g or 100ml. The table below shows you what these numbers mean and whether or not that food is a good choice:

Foods per 100g

Low – green
Safe to eat

Medium – amber
Eat less often

High – red
Avoid if you can

FatLess than 3g3-17.5gMore than 17.5g (>21g/portion)
Saturated fatLess than 1.5g1.5-5gMore than 5g (>6g/portion)
Total sugarLess than 5g5-22.5g

More than 22.5g (>27g/portion) 

SaltLess than 0.3g 0.3-1.5gMore than 1.5g  (>1.8g/portion)

Practical tip

Give yourself more time for your next three shopping trips: At first, you will find that it will take you a little longer to find the brands and foods that contain the lowest amount of salt when you are shopping. But once you have discovered them, then your shopping trip will take no longer than usual.

Break up your shopping into low-salt missions: To make it easier for yourself, why not use the next three shopping trips to discover the lowest-salt options for:

  • ketchups, sauces and stock cubes one week
  • breads, biscuits and cakes the next week
  • snacks and other foods the final week

Write a list of low-salt brands and keep it with you: Once you have discovered the lowest salt choices, then shopping will be just as quick as it used to - but much more salt-free!

How to eat less salt

Practical ideas: from throwing away the salt shaker to cooking and shopping tips

Cooking with less salt

Ways to cut the white stuff out of your meals

Avoiding salt at the table

How to add flavour without adding salt, plus salt myths debunked

Low-sodium alternatives to salt

If you really can't live without salt, here are the alternatives

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Blood Pressure Association Home Page

Salt and blood pressure

Cutting down on the white stuff could save your life

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