Salt and cancer

Salt (sodium chloride or sodium) is used to flavour foods and as a preservative. Diets high in foods preserved by salting (such as pickled vegetables and salted or dried fish) have been linked to an increased risk of stomach and nasopharyngeal cancer. Eating processed meats that have been preserved by salting, curing, fermentation or smoking increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Too much salt can also lead to high blood pressure.

The body does need some sodium to work. However in most circumstances we get all our sodium requirements naturally from foods. There is no need to add salt to foods. It is a good idea to switch to a low-salt diet and try flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead.

But I don’t add salt to my food!
Most of the salt we eat comes from packaged and take-away foods such as pizza, pies, sauces, condiments, seasonings, dressings, soups, margarines, bread and breakfast cereals. When shopping, read labels and choose products with less sodium. Some foods that are made salty should be used sparingly such as yeast extract spreads (e.g. Vegemite or Marmite), olives, cheese and anchovies.

Look for “no added salt” or “low salt” foods in the supermarket. A “low salt” food has less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. “Reduced salt” products may also be good options, check the label. Use nutrition information panels on food labels to compare sodium content (per 100g) and choose lower sodium foods.

How much salt is OK?
You should try and eat no more than 5g of salt (2000mg sodium) each day. This is about 1 teaspoon of salt.

Tips for eating less salt

  • Reduce the salt you use gradually – this will help you get used to the flavour.
  • To add flavour to meals, use garlic, onion, chilli, lemon juice, vinegar, pepper, herbs, curry paste and spices.
  • Swap salty snacks like pretzels, salted nuts and potato chips for fruit, low fat yoghurt or low-salt crackers.
  • Limit take-away foods.
  • Cut back on the amount of pre-packaged sauces, condiments and dehydrated foods such as seasoning mixes and soups that you use.
  • Reduce your intake of processed meats, e.g. bacon and salami.
  • Choose fish canned in spring water rather than fish canned in brine.
  • Include more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Salsa your way to less salt
A salsa is simply a sauce or topping for meat, chicken, fish, pasta, noodles, salad or bread. Try the following salsa ideas to add a real flavour boost to your meals. Simply chop ingredients finely and mix.

Thai: fresh coriander, sweet chilli sauce, and crushed unsalted peanuts.
Italian: fresh basil, fresh tomato, onion, pepper, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
Spanish: crushed garlic, chopped fresh tomato, Spanish onion and continental parsley.
Mexican: avocado, fresh tomato, red capsicum and chilli paste.
Chinese: shallot, crushed garlic, onion, crushed ginger, sesame oil and a dash of salt-reduced soy sauce.
Indian: cucumber, low fat natural yoghurt, mint, mango chutney and curry powder or paste.

See the Salt and Cancer Position Statement for more information.