The weight-loss pariah has hampered your efforts for too long. It’s time to crack down on salt…

We tend to point the finger at fat and sugar when it comes to diet demons. But there’s another, sneakier ingredient that’s often ignored. It has no calories, and it’s packed with important minerals we all need. We’re taught to add it at every meal and it’s often found lurking in everyday foods. Yep, salt – that innocent white crystal that makes caramel taste amazing and can help mask a multitude of cooking sins – is probably the reason your favorite jeans are still that little bit too snug.

Description: Exposed: The demon in your diet

Water weight

Salt may not carry any calories, but it can be responsible for you piling on the pounds through water retention. Not sure what we’re talking about? It’s that puffy look you wake up with the morning after you’ve scoffed that deliciously salty takeaway pizza (if your raging thirst hasn’t already woken you up at 3am, that is). It’s not pretty – and it could really be scuppering your weight-loss plans.

Of course, if it’s a one-off, the puffiness will naturally go down when your body eliminates the excess salt through urine, but if your diet is high in sodium (which can happen without you even realizing it), water retention can become chronic. If you’re on a diet, your results will plateau. And if you aren’t, you’re likely to continue feeling a little uncomfortable.

Eating too much salt causes the body to attempt to restore its balance by drawing water into the blood to dilute the sodium. You can feel this happening when you get thirsty after eating peanuts or crisps. Water then flows into other areas, such as the skin, making us look and feel fatter.

Know your enemy

The thing is, we all need salt. It’s made up of sodium chloride and we need sodium, along with potassium, to help carry the electrical impulses that control our bodily functions. So there’s no doubt that it’s important! But, we need the right ratio of sodium to potassium for these chemical reactions to work properly.

The Government recommends a maximum of 6g salt per day, or 2.4g of sodium. This is because too much sodium causes high blood pressure (which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease) and strains the kidneys. Salt also damages the brain and a high salt intake is linked to vascular dementia – your arteries to the brain become blocked, which can lead to a stroke. Still reaching for the salt shaker now?

Hidden pounds

The science is hard to argue with, so why does the average person in the UK take in around 8.6g of salt per day, nearly 50 per cent above the recommended amount? The main reason is that, unbeknown to most of us, salt is hidden in a myriad of foods. If your diet isn’t working, the culprit could be something as seemingly harmless as tomato ketchup – or stock cubes, gravy granules, sausages, bacon, bread or biscuits – the list is endless.

So, if you want to get rid of that stubborn water weight, how do you do it? Here are our top tips for striking the right sodium balance.

Five easy peasy ways to slash your salt intake

Description: Five easy peasy ways to slash your salt intake

  1. Spice it up

There’s no doubt that salt peps up a bland dish, but is that extra inch (or two!) on your waist worth it? Of course not! Experiment with adding some fresh or dried herbs and spices to your meals instead. Fresh chilli, garlic and ginger pack of a tasty punch or, for a more subtle flavor, add in onions, shallots or a squeeze of lemon juice.

  1. Go DIY

They may be convenient, but ready made stocks, sauces and soups are often really high in salt. You can make your own stock from a leftover roast chicken carcass and freeze it in individual portions. And if you need a quick fix, look out for low sodium vegetable stock cubes (try the Marigold or Kallo brands). Making your own sauces and soups is also a healthier – and cheaper – option.

  1. Eat at home

Restaurant and pub meals can be real killers when it comes to hidden salt. EAT ham and free range egg sandwich contains 3.3g salt per portion, over half the recommended daily amount. A Wetherspoon’s pie and mash meal has, wait for it, 7.5g of salt. Make packed lunches and invite friends over for dinner instead. It’ll save you money, too!

  1. Avoid the snacks

Snack foods are probably one of the worst water-weight culprits. A bag of salt and vinegar crisps has 4g salt: a sachet of hot chocolate has 5g salt and three digestive biscuits contain 6g salt, almost as much as a whole packet of peanuts, which has 7g. So, if you’re hungry, opt for a piece of fruit and some raw, unroasted, unsalted nuts instead.

  1. Make friends with potassium

Water retention is caused by an excess of sodium in relation to potassium, so one way to improve the situation is to increase your potassium intake. Fruits and vegetables are potassium rich, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes, asparagus, spinach, cabbage, sprouts, bananas, tomato sauce (the low-salt version), oranges, apricots and currants.

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