Mother and Baby

Hidden Salt And Sugar In Everyday Family Foods (And How To Avoid It)

Section: Meals & Baking
While everyone knows that too much salt and sugar in your diet is bad for you and your children's health, there are plenty of foods that you might not realise contain large quantities. Whether they’re hidden away behind a ‘low-fat’ label or added in as a fruit sugar, it’s important to keep an eye on how much you're eating. So, whether you're keeping an eye on your baby or toddler's diet, or trying to improve your own, Sonia Pombo, a nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt & Health reveals the foods to watch out for
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Breakfast cereals and cereal bars

While often marketed as a healthy food, many breakfast cereals and bars are full of hidden sugar. This can be in the cereal itself, or even in the dried fruit pieces such as raisins or banana chips. Make your own muesli (as many shop varieties have added sugar) or have porridge with fresh berries. For toddler breakfast ideas, click here.
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A slice of bread has around 0.4g of salt, but as we tend to eat large quantities of bread – often up to four slices a day, this could mean you’re eating 2g of salt per day – which is a third of your daily allowance for adults - kids have an even lower allowance (1g for 6-12 months, 2g for 1-3 years). And watch out for bagels – an average-size bagel is the equivalent in calories and sugar of five slices of white bread. Instead, check the label of your bread and choose a brand with 0.9g salt or less per 100g. And think about slice size – the thicker the slice, the more salt it contains, so stick to medium sliced loaves.
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Low fat flavoured yoghurt

Many foods that market themselves as low fat have to increase their sugar content to make them more palatable. This is often the case with flavoured low fat yoghurts. Instead, pick a plain, natural yoghurt, like Greek yoghurt, and add some fresh raspberries and blackberries for sweetness if you need it.
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There’s nothing tastier than a crumbly Cheddar, but be warned – it’s also high in salt. If you’re giving cheese to your little one, mix up the cheese varieties with Emmental, Wensleydale or mozzarella as they’re the lowest salt cheeses.
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Pasta sauce

If you use pasta sauce, check the label as many are packed with sugar. Often this is because the tomatoes used in them are cheap and unripe, which means manufacturers add sugar to sweeten it. Instead, make up your own sauce with some tinned tomatoes and tomato puree – it only takes five minutes. For a tasty pasta sauce, try this.
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Ham and cured meats

Bacon, ham and continental meats such as salami or chorizo are all high in salt because they’re used in the curing process. Limit how much ham you or your family have each week – if you need a new sandwich filler, opt for sliced, grilled chicken breast or canned tuna (that’s been stored in spring water).
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Smoked fish

Like cured meats, smoked salmon and mackerel are high in salt, so despite the health benefits of these oily fish, it’s healthier to pick the un-cured versions as they’ll be lower in salt, or just give less often.
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Ready meals

Yes, many people know that ready meals aren’t good for you, but this can extend to the versions made by diet companies or marketed as the healthier version of their regular version. Check the labels as meals that say they contain ‘30% less fat and sugar than the regular version’ will still contain sugar, just at slightly lower levels.
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Ketchup and BBQ sauce

High fructose corn syrup is usually added to ketchup and BBQ sauce to give them their sweet and savoury flavour. One way to cut back is to look for a "no added sugar" brand or low sugar version. If you’re feeling energetic, you can also make your own ketchup by combining tomato puree, vinegar, onion powder, and garlic powder, or just make sure you limit the amount you or your toddler eat.
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While you can expect biscuits to contain sugar, many also contain high amounts of salt. In fact, a recent survey by CASH found that over 110 biscuits were as salty, or saltier than, salted popcorn. If you can’t resist a sweet treat, choose smaller biscuits and opt for more traditional biscuits such as bourbon biscuits or custard creams which contain less salt than chocolate digestives and large bakery-style cookies.
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Fruit juices and smoothies

While they pack in a healthy dose of vitamins, you’re better off giving your baby the raw fruit rather than a liquidised version in a juice or smoothie. Much of the sugar found in fruit juices is naturally occurring rather than added, but that doesn’t make it better for you – or your teeth. These drinks can damage teeth because sugar that would otherwise be contained within the structure of whole fruit is released when the fruit is juiced or blended.
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Dried fruit

When fresh fruit is dried, it decreases its water content and concentrates its natural sugars. So if you take grapes and raisins as an example, your toddler can snack on 10 grapes or 10 raisins. However, it will take him longer to eat the grapes and will fill him up sooner than if he eats 10 raisins, which has the same amount of sugar. So, keep dried fruit for an occasional snack rather than a regular part of your toddler’s diet.
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Salad dressings

Low fat versions will increase salt and sugar to replace flavour lost from removing the fat, so check the label or the traffic light symbol on the front of the packaging. Make your own dressing by mixing one part balsamic vinegar to three parts oil, add in dried herbs, freshly ground pepper and even a spoonful of mustard.
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Baby foods

Watch out for fruit juice concentrate (it will appear on the label as apple juice concentrate in many cases), which is used to sweeten many foods. It will be marketed as ‘natural fruit juice’ and healthy, but it’s still a source of sugar.
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Flavoured waters

Yes, it’s water, but once you start adding flavourings, it can really boost the quantity of sugar. Some varieties of flavoured water have nearly 28g per 500ml bottle, which is the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar, so you should definitely avoid giving to your child.
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Baked beans

Beans are a great comfort food and provide a source of protein and fibre. Just watch out for levels of salt and sugar. You can buy reduced salt and sugar versions so choose these over the regular varieties.
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Fresh soups

Look out for the traffic light symbol on the front of your tub of fresh soup – some have worryingly high amounts of salt – even the healthy vegetable versions.
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Both frozen and fresh prawns are often soaked in a saline (salt water) solution before freezing, which can increase the salt intake. You can reduce the salt content by soaking the prawns in plain water before cooking, as that will help the salt to leech out of them. Do you have tips on reducing salt and sugar in your family’s diet? Let us know in the comment box below.

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