Salt and the liver – if you have liver disease get advice
Now salt is in cooking around the world in a big way!
In reality, it is added to most things, from curries, fish and chips and casseroles. My dad would always break the golden rule of salt when eating out and would put it all over the food before he had even a chance to taste it.
However, when it comes down to salt and the liver, it needs a bit of extra attention.
In fact, you see it less nowadays but most places would have salt and vinegar on the table by default. Yet you would never see any black pepper on the table, you would have to ask for that!
I always ask for chilli flakes to add to my food as I will discuss later, it is one of my key alternatives to salt.
Now what are the guidelines for salt? Should you be worried about salt intake if you have problems with your liver? Salt and the liver is an overlooked area especially if like me you have liver disease.
My Tops Tips
How much salt should you have? Actually not very much at all. Ignore those people who say salt is good for you but in reality the people that say this do a salt shaker work out! They don’t even measure it, it seems the act of putting it on their food is more important!
Just knowing this can really help. Have you ever heard that phrase “what gets measured gets done”. I’ll do a different take, what gets measured can be avoided!
I do have liver disease so I’ll focus on that and my experience so bear that in mind. Its personal approach but backed up my medical advice.
My liver disease was life threatening so I had to take every precaution.
Now in adults the advice is to eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) that’s around 1 teaspoon. Yep that not a lot is it? I have seen people chuck more than that over their shoulder for good luck.
If sodium and salt are a bit confusing, well I am not surprised. It’s calculated differently.
Salt or sodium good question.
Some food labels may only state the sodium content. Do not confuse salt and sodium figures. This is the reason ready-made meals’ are not great.
Ideally, we want foods that aren’t being pushed endlessly along the food manufacturing route, its the way more sodium gets added along the way.
Salt is a mix made up of sodium and chloride. Medics would argue it’s the sodium that’s really detrimental to your health so I guess the purer the salt the less damage.
So a bit of maths in terms of salt, just multiply the sodium amount by 2.5. For example, 1g of sodium per 100g is 2.5 grams of salt per 100g. Although in reality most dietitians would probably not separate the two out and I can see why, it’s confusing enough!
For adults with no issue you should eat no more than 2.4g of sodium per day, and this means around 6g of salt.
Now once I gave up alcohol was obsessed with the amount of alcohol in alcohol free drinks as I only ever consume 0.0% alcohol by volume drinks. I once gave up wheat and you would be surprised how much wheat is in everything.
The same is true of salt. You will be shocked when you read some labels, or at least I was.
Just go into a supermarket and check the labels. It is eye-opening. Once you start looking at the details you may opt for low sugar option although in my experience some of these products are just pumped with salt instead. Check salt on labels.
Nutrition labels on food packaging have now come a long way but when you are looking for one thing another passes you by, so low fat = more sugar, high fat = low sugar. It’s a right old juggle!
In the UK there is a color code to try and help us so
- green (low)
- amber (medium)
- red (high)
Although let’s be honest sometimes life just gets in the way and when I need a ready-made Italian meal, it’s a bit of a hunt!
Salt and Liver disease – get a dietitian
This is written from a personal perspective so please always get advice. After I had been given 48 hours to live and after amazing medical care, I started to pull through I was given a dietitian. Now to say I was cynical would be an understatement but she was amazing.
It turns out if you have complications of the liver including liver disease you really need to watch your salt intake.
Now during this time my stomach expanded. I don’t know if you remember those awful pics of people with large stomachs because of malnutrition in the Live Aid films but I was heading that way and quickly.
It’s was basically a build up of fluid commonly known as ascites. This also affected my ankles really badly, they ballooned!
I was given medication for this and the fluid in the accident and emergency department was drained from my stomach. Now this can be life threatening if you get internal bleeding as a result. So my life was on a knife-edge in many ways.
However, the people looking after me were adamant about me drinking plenty of fluid as my pee had been a funny color for a while and yes I should have spotted the symptoms.
For background, I was just a social wine drinker nothing more nothing less.
The best advice from my dietitian was about reducing the amount of salt in my intake of food. I was shocked to find out at the time that my liver disease had made me suffer “malnutrition”.
Now before you reduce your salt remember it has its uses so make sure you consult a dietitian. I can’t speak highly enough of them!
Now to be fair I was not a big salt eater but it is true, you become more sensitive to salt if you are used to it then cut it right back. The thing I realized however is that much of the salt we consume is added by food production unless of course like my Dad you are a serial salt shaker!
I was advised to reduce the amount of salt in my intake to 5.2g of salt or a sodium count of no more than 2.08g per day. So if I am honest I had no idea so it was back to the labels but here are some interesting guidelines that helped me.
There were a few surprises as I checked the labels but here are my hints and tips.
- Fresh foods are good generally
- Look out for low salt brands, beans come to mind where the labels were clever but check what that means
- Was the salt content so bad that they have just reduced it a bit!
- Canned or processed foods are high in salt.
- Look at the label and see how much salt is in there per 100g.
- Over 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) = high in salt,
- Below 0.3g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium) = low in salt.
Food stuffs high in salt and actions!
- Take salt off the table and if you need to and you’re eating out ask it to be removed. I am not kidding, it’s your body!
- I would never make my own stock gravy but there are lower salt option granules, you just need to look out for them.
- I love soups but tinned soups need a big label check. I use the high in fiber low in salt brands. They are out there.
- I put frozen veggies in the freezer and they are lower in salt than canned veg.
- I only have smoked salmon occasionally, as smoked fish can be high in salt. Work out when to have a treat and make it count.
- I love bacon but again I make it as a treat or my ankles start to swell. Cured meats are full of salt, including ham, bacon, sausages, and salami so I will buy a chicken and have that for sandwiches,
- Packaged cheeses including grated cheese have high salt levels, lots of red labels on those
- Ready meals’ pasta meals’ vary so check the labels. Unfortunately they can be great for your pocket but less so for your liver.
- I have also switched to lower salt butters or spreads but hardly use it anyway.
Now a couple of odd ones.
Some bottled waters are high in sodium, yes really so check the labels. Can you not trust anyone nowadays!
Now when I had to avoid alcohol full stop I was shocked to find out medicines have alcohol in them. You can read about it here. In fact some of them you should not have with liver disease at all.
Always check with your pharmacist, they are generally a good bunch and I only came across one who was judgmental about my liver condition. Many liver issues are not even related to alcohol if that was his problem and he should not do that. You do get it but it’s their issue.
My top ten alternatives to salt
- Freshly ground black pepper – I love pepper both white and black
- Applesauce with pork especially if you like Sunday lunch and go easy on the gravy.
- Ginger, garlic and spring onions with mixed vegetables but you can add them to so many things
- Olive oil and vinegar with salad and vegetables
- Different types of onion – brown, red, spring onions all give that extra boost to the flavor.
- Garlic, chilli and ginger to pasta dishes, vegetables and meat. Ginger gives stuff a real kick. I always make sure I have them in the cupboard and so a sprinkle works wonders.
So remember if you have any liver issues, having a dietitian is first class in terms of making you do your diet thinking. They are also very real.
For example, I was worried about “puddings” but actually she said go with your body. Having a desert is normal, it’s all about balance. If you don’t have a liver issue (however many people don’t know) reducing your salt content can be beneficial for all sorts of reasons including high blood pressure.
Remember alcohol and your liver is not a good mix so it’s not just about salt!
I always love to hear what you think. Have you had issues with your liver and looked at your salt intake? Have you ever had a dietitian give you advice? How was it? How easy is it to reduce your salt intake? Any top food tips? I love responding back to you so leave a message below.