An analysis of the Australian Health Survey data found only two per cent Australians were eating the recommended 30g of nuts a day. One of the reasons for this shortfall is concern about the salt in nuts. But do salted nuts deserve their bad rap? And how does their sodium content compare with other foods?  

It turns out salted nuts are not as ‘salty’ as some other common foods. If you’ve avoided nuts due to their salt content, it’s worth giving a daily handful of these nutritional powerhouses another shot!  

How much salt should we eat?

We need a small amount of sodium for good health. Sodium has a role in transmitting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, and maintaining fluid balance.

An adult body needs between 460-920mg/day of sodium (or around 1-2g of salt) to function (1).

Research suggests that if population sodium intake levels were to reduce from the current average of about 3,600mg to 2,000mg/day (roughly 6g salt), we’d see a vast improvement in average blood pressure levels among Australians, which in turn would help prevent chronic disease (1).

Do Australians eat too much salt?

The latest data suggests the average daily intake of sodium among the Australian population is around 3,600mg (1) – which is roughly 9g (or 1 ½ teaspoons) of salt a day. As this is an average, many Australians (particularly men, according to Australian Health Survey data) consume more than this (2). 

Did you know? A recent study found the risk of cardiovascular disease increased up to 6% for every one gram increase in dietary sodium intake (3).

What foods are contributing to sodium intake in Australia?

Around 75 per cent of the salt in our diet comes from manufactured foods (2), such as:

  • Biscuits, muffins, cakes, sauces, pizza, burgers, pasta and noodle dishes
  • Meat, poultry, and related products, including processed meats like ham, bacon and sausages   
  • Bread, breakfast foods, and other products made from cereals and grains.

How much salt is in salted nuts?

In 2020, Nuts for Life conducted an audit to compare the sodium content of commonly-available ‘salted’ nuts. This found that, on average, a 30g serve of mixed salted nuts contains 95mg of sodium (or 317mg/100g).

The Heart Foundation classes foods with <400mg sodium/100g as moderately-salted foods that are ‘ok options’ (5). So, if you like salted nuts, compare the sodium content of different products – and be sure to opt for those with no more than 400mg sodium/100g, over more salty options.

How does the sodium content of nuts compare with other foods?

Food Serve size (as outlined in the AGHE) Sodium (mg) per serve Sodium (mg) per 100g
Ham, leg, lean 2 slices (50-60g) 625-750 1,250
Cheddar cheese, natural, regular fat 2 slices (40g) 274 684
Savoury biscuits (plain, cracker style) 30g 183 609
Potato crisps/chips, plain and salted 30g 178 592
Potato crisps/chips, plain and salted50g*296592
White bread roll ½ medium (40g) 215 537
Meat pie 1/3 pie (60g) 301 501
Pizza, ham and pineapple, purchased frozen, baked 1 slice (90g) # 421 468
Wholemeal bread 40g (1 slice) 168 421
Baked beans, canned 75-150g 284-567 378
Muffin, berry 40g 147 367
Muffin, berry163g*598367
Instant noodles, sachet, cooked and drained145g*522360
Mixed nuts, salted 30g 95 317
Wholewheat breakfast biscuits 30g (2 biscuits) 90 300
Sweet biscuits, plain 2-3 biscuits (35g) 101 289
Chickpeas, canned, drained 75-150g 188-375 250
Tuna, canned in brine, drained Small can (100g) 200 200
Chocolate, plain milk, block ½ small bar/4 squares (25g) 17 68
Chicken breast, lean, grilled 80g 34 43
Mixed nuts, unsalted 30g 1.9 6.3
Oats (cooked porridge) ½ cup (120g) 5 4
Apple 150g (1 medium) 2 1

The above figures are from the Australian Food Composition Database (AFCD) – Release 1.0. This reference database offers analysed nutrient data for Australian foods (10). For mixed tree nuts (salted and unsalted), the figures are from the 2020 Nuts for Life audit. This is because the AFCD has limited information on salted tree nuts (with data only available for salted cashews).

Above serve sizes are based on the serve sizes outlined in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, except for # – where serve sizes were not available, so are based on typically-consumed amounts. Additional serve sizes at * are based on the serve sizes used in the AFCD. Note: A serve of legumes is: as a vegetable serve = 75g (½ cup cooked legumes); as a meat alternative serve = 150g (1 cup cooked legumes).

Nuts for heart health

A large analysis of international studies, collectively involving more than 350,000 people, found that around 30g (a handful) of nuts a day helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20 per cent and coronary heart disease by nearly 30 per cent (6).

And for people with heart disease, eating nuts can reduce the risk of dying from it (6).

Separate research suggests that eating a handful of nuts daily can improve the blood markers that are linked with heart disease, such as high LDL (bad) cholesterol (7,8). The benefits of nuts are likely due to the unique nutrients and bioactive compounds they contain.

Did you know? A randomised controlled trial, involving 72 people, found that lightly salting nuts did not cancel out the heart health benefits of eating raw nuts (9). In fact, eating both raw and salted nuts improved HDL (good) cholesterol and systolic blood pressure over the 28-day study period.

The bottom line

If you’ve avoided nuts due to their salt content, it’s worth giving a daily handful of these nutritional powerhouses another shot! They offer many health benefits – and while unsalted nuts contain very little sodium, even salted nuts are not as ‘salty’ as many of us think.  

Infographic: Sodium in common snacks

*Serve sizes are based on the serve sizes provided in the Australian Food Composition Database: Muffin (berry): 163g; Instant noodles: 145g sachet (cooked and drained); Potato crisps: 50g packet. Where serve sizes are not provided, standard serve sizes have been used: Cheese & crackers: 2 slices of cheese (40g) with plain, cracker-style biscuits (30g); Mixed nuts: 30g.

References

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council 2006, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, http://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/sodium
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients. 2014. Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/australian-health-survey-nutrition-first-results-foods-and-nutrients/latest-release#energy-and-nutrients (accessed 21 December 2020)
  3. Wang YJ., et al., Dietary sodium intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 2020, 12, 2934.
  4. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. AUSNUT 2011-13 Food Nutrient Database. Available at: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/ausnut/ausnutdatafiles/Pages/foodnutrient.aspx (accessed 21 December 2020)
  5. Heart Foundation. Salt and heart health. Available at: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-health-education/salt-and-heart-health (accessed December 2020)
  6. Aune, D., et al., Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med, 2016. 14(1): 207.
  7. Muacevic A., et al., A pilot study on the effects of nut consumption on cardiovascular biomarkers. Cureas, 2020. 12(6): e8798.
  8. Neale, E., et al., The effect of nut consumption on heart health: an updated systematic review of the literature. 2018. Nuts for Life, unpublished.
  9. Tey, S.L., et al., Do dry roasting, lightly salting nuts affect their cardioprotective properties and acceptability? Eur J Nutr, 2017. 56(3): 1025-1036.
  10. Food Standards Australian New Zealand. Release 1 of the Australian Food Composition Database. Available at: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/Pages/default.aspx
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