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Salt is an everyday, essential mineral and is used to maintain body fluid levels, and muscle and nerve function1-3. When you’re pregnant, your body fluid levels change to support your developing baby and salt plays an important role in helping to regulate and maintain your body fluid1. But how much salt is enough or too much? Although it has a vital function, only a small amount of salt is needed for a healthy diet during your pregnancy2. Read on to find out how much salt you should be consuming and to discover ways to reduce your salt intake when you’re pregnant.
The difference between sodium and salt
Salt is made up of two substances – sodium and chloride. Some nutrition labels include the content of both salt and sodium, while others only account for 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.
Iodised salt during pregnancy
Some salt is fortified with iodine, a mineral that contributes to your baby’s brain development. Research shows that some pregnant women aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient, so replacing your regular table salt with an iodised variety may help to support your intake4.
The NHS suggests that pregnant women can get a sufficient amount of iodine from diet alone and doesn’t recommend taking any iodine supplements5. Foods rich in iodine include some fish, shellfish, eggs and grains5. Find out which fish and shellfish you can eat while pregnant and the rules around eating eggs during your pregnancy.
How much salt should a pregnant woman have?
A healthy intake of salt during your pregnancy is the same as it would be normally.
Adults need less than 1g of salt per day for normal bodily function, and the Department of Health recommends a daily maximum intake of 6g, which is about a teaspoon or the equivalent to 2.4g of sodium6.
We all know how important it is to maintain a healthy diet when you’re pregnant, and if your salt intake is already within the daily 6g limit, you shouldn’t need to adjust your diet.
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.
What happens if you eat too much salty food when you’re pregnant?
Many people unknowingly eat more than the recommended amount because salt is added to so many manufactured foods. A staggering 75-80% of our salt intake is hidden in processed food, ready meals, takeaways and restaurant meals7.
High salt intake can have a negative impact on blood pressure2. Salt affects the kidneys, causing the body to retain water. This extra fluid results in greater blood volume, which can cause blood pressure to rise1. So, a low salt diet during your pregnancy can help keep blood pressure within a healthy range, reducing the risks of stroke and heart problems, as well as other conditions1-3.
How to reduce your salt intake when you’re pregnant
After years of eating a high-salt diet or even a moderately salty diet, lower salt options can seem tasteless and bland7.
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 having to cut down on salt, be patient and keep in mind that food will soon taste good again7.
Foods that are low in salt for pregnant women
Here are some easy ways to lower your salt intake when you’re pregnant.
- Check salt levels on pre-packaged food and aim for less than 1.5g of salt per 100g.
- Look out for reduced salt options when buying frozen pizza, ketchup or breakfast cereals.
- Cured fish, cured meats like salami and deli meats like ham can be high in salt, so try to eat these less often. Check out which meat you can eat and foods you should avoid when you’re pregnant.
- Limit your use of soy sauce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt.
- Reduce your intake of cheese, as it can be high in salt. Find out which cheeses are safe to eat during pregnancy.
- Buy tinned vegetables and pulses without any added salt.
- Tomato-based sauces are often lower in salt than cheesy sauces or those containing olives, bacon or ham.
- If you’re eating nuts, shop for the unsalted variety. And for a healthier snack, opt for fruit or vegetables like a handful of berries or some carrot sticks.
Tips for cooking with less salt
- There are a lot of ways to add flavour to your food whilst still reducing your salt intake.
- Avoiding adding salt automatically to food while you’re cooking and once it is prepared. And taste your food before seasoning – it may not need any additional salt.
- Try seasoning your food with pepper only - it works well with almost any dish.
- Add fresh herbs and spices like garlic, chilli and ginger to pasta, vegetables and meat dishes, and try a squeeze of fresh lime on stir fries.
- Baking or roasting vegetables will help to enhance their flavours. Try roasting red peppers, tomatoes, courgettes and fennel with a variety of fresh herbs, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
- Instead of using cubes or granules, make your own stock or gravy. Or, shop for a reduced-salt variety.
Tips for eating out
- It can be harder to control your salt intake when you’re eating in a restaurant or ordering a takeaway. Here are some helpful tips to look out for when dining out.
- Choose vegetables or chicken as a pizza topping instead of pepperoni, bacon or extra cheese.
- Skip the bacon, cheese or sausage on your pasta. Order yours with tomato sauce with chicken or vegetables.
- Although it’s tempting, avoid extra toppings on your burger such as bacon, cheese or barbecue sauce and opt for a salad instead of chips.
- Fancy a curry or stir fry? Order plain rice rather than pilau or egg fried rice as it’s lower in salt.
- Skip a ham and cheese sarnie and choose fillings like chicken, or vegetables like avocado or roasted peppers. Also, try a reduced fat mayonnaise over pickle and mustard, which are usually higher in salt.
- When ordering a salad, ask for the dressing on the side as some sauces are high in salt and fat.
- British Dietetic Association. Food Fact Sheet: Salt and Health [Online]. 2016. Available at: www.bda.uk.com/resource/salt.html [Accessed February 2020]
- NHS. Salt: the facts [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx [Accessed February 2020]
- Action on salt. Salt and your health [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/index.html [Accessed February 2020]
- Glinoer D. The importance of iodine nutrition during pregnancy. Public Health Nutr 2007;10(12A):1542-1546.
- NHS. Iodine supplements could help mums, babies and the economy. [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/iodine-supplements-could-help-mums-babies-and-the-economy/ [Accessed February 2020]
- Action on salt. Myths and Frequently Asked Questions [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/less/faqs/index.html [Accessed February 2020]
- Action on salt. How to reduce your salt intake [Online]. Available at: www.actiononsalt.org.uk/less/reducing-intake/ [Accessed February 2020]
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.