Most of us consume more than we should, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Sophie Morris has some inventive ideas on how to cut down, from oregano to bean substitutes

two tall burger stacks.

Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

Would you order a pizza described as saltier than seawater? That’s what Domino’s fans are getting when they order a medium stuffed-crust “Sizzler”, the pizza that’s been named Britain’s saltiest by Action on Salt, in its analysis of 1,387 pizzas from shops, restaurants and takeaways.

The Sizzler in question packs 21.4g of salt, 3.5 times the recommended daily intake of 6g. Despite ongoing health messaging about using less salt to reduce heart disease and stroke, it seems pizzas are getting saltier. Another Domino’s pizza, the Tandoori Hot standard mozzarella thin and crispy, has increased its salt content from 5.3g to 14.4g since 2014, when Action on Salt last looked at pizzas.

In the UK, most of us are consuming more salt than we should each day – 8.4g on average, which is 40 per cent higher than the recommended daily amount. As someone who loves eating and cooking with salt, I don’t want to demonise it, but eating a Domino’s a day is out of the question. Try out these easy ways to cut back before your blood pressure soars.

Read the labels

Although Action on Salt found that half the pizzas tested contained at least a day’s worth of salt, there were huge disparities across shops and brands. Papa John’s stuffed crust pizzas contain twice our daily 6g, for example, but Iceland’s wood-fired stone baked pepperoni comes in at 5.6g.

Goodfella’s, Morrisons and the Co-op are named best for shop-bought pizza, with Bella Italia, Pizza Express and Fireaway best for restaurants and takeaways.

Make your own dough

Starting from scratch is hardly a straight swap compared with the ease of ordering in, but it can transform a “treat” food into a nutrient-packed meal. The way forward is to make a large batch of dough and freeze individual servings. What’s more, making your own pizza means you can control the salt content of the tomato sauce base and all the toppings, too. Plus it’s a fraction of the price.

Experiment with oregano

Oregano is a standard crisp flavour in Greece, says Niki Segnit, author of hit cookbook The Flavour Thesaurus and recently released The Flavour Thesaurus: More Flavours (Bloomsbury, £20). Oregano, she says, brings that satisfying fast-food smell and taste to anything it touches.

Oregano is extremely popular among purveyors of convenience food,” writes Segnit. “Not only because it makes everything taste like pizza, but because the punch it packs is an easy way to amplify flavour now that reductions in salt and fat are increasingly mandated by legislation.”

Choose umami over salty

Soy, parmesan and mushroom powder are the secret weapons in chef Jason Shaw’s arsenal. “Season with umami flavours from the outset to reduce the need for additional salt later in cooking,” says former M&S development chef Shaw, who runs Elevated Food for Life, a healthy recipe and lifestyle subscription programme, with nutritionist James Ellis.

“Drizzle dark soy or tamari while cooking or as a dressing before serving, or add dried cep or porcini powder to sauces and risottos at the start of cooking,” he suggests. “Italian chefs may well grate some three- month-aged parmesan or bottarga (dry-cured fish roe) on top of finished dishes.”

Take a packed lunch

If you’re a supermarket sandwich addict, taking a packed lunch and avoiding salty and sugary ready-made options will easily reduce your daily salt intake (even if you think you’re being smart by choosing soup or salad).

Action on Salt also recently uncovered how salty many supermarket sliced loaves are, so make your own or choose one of the lower-salt supermarket loaves.

Think beyond sandwiches – make enough dinner for leftovers, batch prep grains to mix with leaves, veg, seeds and something filling like avocado or eggs, and pre-cook fish and meat for lunches, or read the label to check for added salt and preservatives on any shop-bought proteins for your packed lunches.

Taste your food

Do you reach for the salt whatever you’re eating, and wherever you are? “Often we add salt as a reflex, without tasting the food,” points out Kate Booker, Nutrition Geek’s nutritionist. “If we taste first and tune in to see if it actually needs more salt, then we don’t overdo the salt unnecessarily.

Booker adds that we might be searching for something other than salt. “You may want some spice, black pepper or fresh or dried herbs, but we tend to go automatically for the salt.”

Try new herbs

Shaw’s favourites are fresh rosemary or sage. “Both these herbs have deep saline undertones, so by adding these when cooking we generate the salt notes without adding salt itself,” he says.

Find alternatives to salty water

This might surprise you as chefs tend to love very salty cooking water, but Jason Shaw of Elevated has lots of alternatives. Cook new potatoes in chicken stock not salted water, so they pick up natural salts and more flavours and nutrition from the stock.

Cook carrots in orange juice with star anise – both complement the carrot and add deeper background notes. Cook thinly sliced savoy cabbage in a tiny knob of melted unsalted butter with caraway seeds in a pan, allowing the cabbage’s water content to exude and fold over until cooked al dente.

Serve up with seaweed

Seaweed brings the umami notes that are such a good substitute for salt. In The Flavour Thesaurus: More Flavours Segnit says that we already eat more seaweed than we realise, as carrageenan – E407 – is used as a thickener in many ice creams, milkshakes and yoghurts.

You can buy dried flakes such as wakame or kombu to sprinkle during cooking or at the table – especially good in soups. “Either use a small amount to season a bland ingredient like potato,” advises Segnit, “or serve it as the main element of a dish, with a freshening ingredient like citrus or ginger to tone down its deep sea pungency.” She says you might even get notes of hay, liquorice, Marmite, tobacco, tamari, smoke, anchovy, bacon, truffles and many more distinctive flavours.

Cook with tasty ingredients

If you choose bland and poor-quality ingredients, your impulse will be to add more salt. “Salt fundamentally helps bring out the flavour of other ingredients, through a basic chemical reaction, alongside igniting your palate receptors within your mouth and at the back of your tongue,” explains Shaw. “Salt (and sugar for that matter) are added to recipes beyond their needs largely to compensate for a lack in flavour of the basic ingredients themselves.”

Substitute beans for processed proteins

Amelie Christie-Miller of Bold Bean Co recommends using protein-rich beans instead of salty meats, for example crisping up red beans with smoky paprika and olive oil as a stand-in for bacon, and using red beans in puff pastry instead of sausage meat, as with these Stilton rolls.