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Why is salt important in pregnancy?

Why is salt important in pregnancy? Friend or foe?

Summary

Salt is essential to your health throughout pregnancy. It maintains your body fluid levels, which helps your baby develop properly. However, too much salt can be harmful. Find out how much salt you should be consuming and how to maintain a healthy level in your pregnancy diet.

Salt: keeping your body in balance

During pregnancy, your body fluid levels change to support your developing baby. Salt plays an important role in helping to regulate and maintain your body fluid1. It is used by all of the cells in your body to function properly, and it is also needed to transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body1.

The well-documented problem with high salt intake is its effect on blood pressure2. Salt affects the kidneys, causing the body to retain water. This extra fluid results in greater blood volume, which causes blood pressure to rise1.

A low salt diet during pregnancy can help to keep blood pressure within a healthy range, reducing the risks of stroke and heart problems, as well as other serious diseases and conditions1,2,3.

How much salt is safe during pregnancy?

Your salt requirement during pregnancy is the same as it would normally be: adults less than just 1g per day4. To encourage people to stay within healthy levels, the Department of Health recommends a daily maximum of 6g, equivalent to 2.4g of sodium4.

Many people unknowingly eat more than the recommended maximum because salt is added to so many manufactured foods. A staggering 75-80% of our salt intake is hidden in ready-prepared or processed food and food bought from takeaways and restaurants5. Look out for foods like crisps, bacon, salted options for items like nuts, as well as many seemingly healthy foods such as pasta sauces, soup and sandwiches.

Use herbs to add flavour to home cooked meals instead of adding salt.

If your salt intake is already within the daily 6g limit, you shouldn’t need to adjust your diet where salt is concerned. But if you suspect your intake might be higher, it's a good idea to track your daily levels by checking nutrition labels for salt or sodium content.

Reading labels: The difference between sodium and salt

Salt is made up of two substances – sodium and chloride.

Some nutrition labels helpfully include the content of both salt and sodium. When only the sodium content is listed, you need to multiply this by 2.5 to work out how much salt the food contains2.

Reducing your salt intake

Salt is a kitchen staple; it is used to enhance the flavour of food, and most recipes include some mention of it. But after years of eating a high-salt diet or even a moderately salty diet, lower salt options can seem tasteless and bland5.

The good news is it only takes around three weeks for your taste buds to adapt and start sensing the natural flavours of unsalted foods. So if you’re cutting down on salt, be patient and keep in mind that food will soon taste good again4.

Reduce your salt intake by:

  • Avoiding adding salt to foods during cooking and once they're cooked
  • Using herbs or black pepper to add flavour to home cooked meals
  • Choosing lower sodium options when they're available
  • Reducing the amount of processed foods in your diet

The benefits of iodised salt during pregnancy

Some salt is fortified with iodine, a mineral that contributes to your baby’s brain development. There is a growing concern that many pregnant women aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient, so replacing your regular table salt with an iodised variety can support your intake6. However, salt shouldn’t be used as a way to increase your iodine levels - it is just a fortification that may help. It’s always better to get nutrients from their natural food source.

Next Steps

Maintain a healthy salt intake during pregnancy by:

  • Checking salt levels on pre-packed food. Aim for less than 1.5g salt per 100g
  • Reducing the amounts of ham, bacon, salami, cheese and soya you use when cooking, as they are all high in salt
  • Choosing retailers own brands that often have less added salt
  • Being wary of sweet foods such as biscuits, which also contain salt
  • Checking restaurant menus for hidden salty foods
  • Tasting your food before seasoning – you might not need salt

View references

Hide references

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1. British Dietetic Association. Food Fact Sheet: Salt and Health [Online]. 2016. Available at: www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Salt.pdf [Accessed September 2016]

2. NHS UK. Salt: the facts [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

3. Action on salt. Salt and your health [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/index.html [Accessed September 2016]

4. Action on salt. Myths and Frequently Asked Questions [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/less/faqs/index.html [Accessed September 2016]

5. Action on salt. How to reduce your salt intake [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/less/Reducing%20Intake/79609.html [Accessed September 2016]

6. Glinoer D. The importance of iodine nutrition during pregnancy. Public Health Nutr 2007;10(12A):1542-1546.

Last reviewed: 9th September 2016
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