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The salt in medicines that could jeopardise your heart health

How just a few doses of many over-the-counter medications could see you exceed your maximum daily salt intake

Take a daily dose of many over-the-counter medicines and you could exceed the daily safe salt targets set by government health experts, our research has found.

We all know salt is bad for us and we shouldn’t eat too much. What’s lesser known is that many soluble versions of numerous over-the-counter medicines contain sodium, the harmful part of salt.

These include paracetamol and other painkillers, cold and flu remedies, heartburn and indigestion medicines, and vitamins supplements.

A daily dose of many of these could see us unwittingly exceed the maximum 6g of salt a day target.

  • Panadol extra soluble tablets contain the equivalent of 1.2g of salt per tablet. The maximum daily dose of eight tablets would be the same as consuming 9.6g of salt.
  • Beechams Cold Relief orange flavour effervescent tablets contain the sodium equivalent of 2.1g of salt per dose (two tablets) meaning a daily dose of eight tablets would equate of 8.4g of salt.
  • One tablet of Berocca, the soluble vitamin contains the equivalent of 0.65g salt, more than a packet of ready salted crisps.

These figures don’t even consider the salt you would also consume through food during the day.

Not all soluble and effervescent medications contain sodium, for example soluble aspirin contains very little.

If you’re worried, look for the amounts of sodium chloride or sodium bicarbonate on your medicine’s label and check with your pharmacist about whether it’s worth switching to a lower sodium variety.

How to cut your salt

Watch our video for more tips from our nutritionist on keeping your salt levels in check.

Food swaps to cut salt

Most of the salt we consume is in the food we buy.

Since 2004, the government has led on a salt-reduction programme encouraging manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt they put in our food.

But this salt reduction is only voluntary, not mandatory, and our research has found that within certain food categories there can be telling differences in the salt intake of seemingly similar foods.

For example, we found that Baxters cream of tomato soup contains 0.67g of salt per 100g. If you swapped to Waitrose Essential cream of tomato soup you’d consume 1g less salt per 400g tin.

Similarly if you went for Sacla classic basil pesto you’d be eating 3.3g of salt per 100g. Switch to Morrisons green pesto and you’ll save 1.16g of salt per quarter of a jar.

Other simple swaps include switching products to their lower-salt varieties, for example soy sauce (see below), baked beans, ketchup and Marmite.

Although you might notice the difference to begin with, after a few weeks your taste buds will adjust and you’ll no longer be able to tell the difference.

Check traffic light labelling on the foods you buy, and pick those with green and amber salt labels rather than red.

Our average daily salt intake has dropped from 9.5g a day in 2000/2001 to 8g a day in 2014. But this is still 25% more than the 6g a day or less we should be aiming for.

We want to see new salt reduction targets set and for traffic light labelling to become mandatory.

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