Congratulations on your decision to reduce the amount of salt you and your family eat; you’re on your way to eating a healthier diet, one that’s much better for your heart health. When you make any commitment to changing your behaviour, it can be difficult to know where to start and, once you get going, the challenge is to stick to your new healthy eating habits.
What about reducing salt?
When it comes to reducing the amount of salt in your diet, the easiest place to start is cutting back on the amount of processed and packaged foods you and your family eat.
Packaged and processed foods contain 75% of the salt you eat.
But, how do you know which foods to buy at the supermarket? Follow our top five tips for planning your weekly shop; before you know it, you will be well on your way towards unpacking the salt in your diet:
1. Plan for supermarket shopping success
Your key to success is to have a plan when you shop: this will help to make your grocery shop quick, easy and healthy. When you already know the meals you are cooking over the week, you will know exactly which products you need to purchase. Knowing what you will be cooking/ eating through the week, especially when you have already purchased fresh and healthy ingredients, helps you to avoid the temptation to grab a quick, cheap and salty takeaway meal.
Remember to make a list of all the ingredients you need: write this down or store it in your smartphone. Having a list will speed up your shop and help you to avoid any aimless wandering down the aisles and tossing unneeded items into your trolley. If you are feeling extra organised, try writing down the groceries you need in order of where they are found in the supermarket!
2. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket first
In many supermarkets, the high salt, highly processed and packaged foods are found in the middle aisles. You can avoid these foods by first moving through the aisles on the perimeter of the supermarket. In these aisles, you will find fresh foods, like fruit and vegetables, which are naturally low in salt. Aim to fill your trolley with these healthy foods and only venture into those middle aisles to get anything extra from your list. If your supermarket doesn’t have a great supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, then frozen varieties are your next best bet. Canned veggies often have added salt, so make sure you check the label for ‘no added salt’ varieties.
3. Don’t shop when you are hungry and avoid shopping at peak times
Do you know the “golden rule” of food shopping? It’s: “Never go to the supermarket on an empty stomach”. If you are shopping while you are hungry, it’s going to be much harder to stick to your list: you might find that your trolley quickly fills up with unhealthy impulse purchases and snacks. At busy times, it will be even harder to resist your children’s pester power, meaning that you are more likely to buy unhealthy, salty snacks. When you do go shopping, try to go alone and to avoid busy periods.
4. Read the label
Similar products can contain very different amounts of salt. The only way to know the salt content of any packaged foods is to read the label. Always check the Nutrition Information Panel on the back of the packet, that’s where you can learn about a product’s salt levels and other information on ingredients and nutrition. Read this Unpack The Salt blog post for tips on reading food labels.
The FoodSwitch smartphone app is an easy to use resource that provides plenty of help when you are at the supermarket. Download the app and scan a product’s barcode to discover an alternative that contains lower amounts of salt. If you’re low on time, look out for products labelled ‘Low Salt’; these will have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
5. Staggered approach
Take a realistic approach to making changes in the way that you shop; you want to be able to stick to them and make them long-lasting habits. Don’t try to change your whole shopping trolley in one single visit to the supermarket. Instead, try to replace at least one item with a lower salt alternative on each visit. For example, one week you can read the labels of breads and choose a lower salt variety. The following week you can buy that same bread and also buy a lower salt pasta sauce. Over time you will build up the changes until your whole trolley is full of lower salt alternatives!