The majority of chefs and caterers added salt to the dishes they served to enhance flavour and improve taste, a recent study published in the Malta Medical Journal has revealed.

We crave salt because we’re accustomed to it. If we slowly reduce it from our diets, we won’t even notice it’s missing

Furthermore, 65 per cent of the restaurants surveyed noted that patrons added salt to their food while at the table.

A high intake of salt is detrimental to health because it causes high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of cardiovascular and renal diseases.

Authored by Charmaine Gauci and Petra Mallia, in collaboration with the World Action on Salt and Health, the study was carried out in line with the Healthy Weight for Life Strategy and the Non-communicable Disease Strategy and aimed to examine the use of salt in restaurants.

Although salt intake among the Maltese population is not known, the Health Interview Survey in 2008 found that the most common health condition was high blood pressure.

Only 16 per cent of the respondents correctly identified the maximum amount of salt recommended by the World Health Organisation: five grams a day.

More than 75 per cent of salt consumed by children and adults is hidden in processed foods.

In 2008, the EU had created a framework for member states to focus on reformulating food products by reducing salt by 16 per cent in four years.

The study indicated that 58 per cent of the respondents were ready to consider salt reduction in their dishes, as long as taste was not compromised. However, most respondents believed that reducing salt would compromise over 15 per cent of the taste.

The Consensus Action on Salt and Health points out that a 10-25 per cent reduction in sodium is undetectable by human senses.

It is interesting to note that when salt was substituted by another ingredient, some respondents indicated soy sauce and stock cubes, ingredients that nevertheless have a high salt content.

“The scope of the study is not merely confined to raising awareness among people but also to promote an environment which enables them to eat healthily. In today’s busy lifestyle, many people eat out regularly and grab takeaways,” Dr Gauci explained.

“We crave salt because we’re accustomed to it. If we slowly reduce it from our diets, we won’t even notice it’s missing.”

Salt may be supplanted with herbs and spices to retain a dish’s flavour.

“For instance, if you’re cooking chicken, you may use chicken herbs, lemon juice or mustard to flavour the dish without actually adding salt,” Dr Gauci suggested.

The study concluded that caterers lacked sufficient knowledge of the consequences of salt as well as the skills required to reduce salt by using alternative preparation techniques.

So educating all levels of restaurant personnel may help awareness on such issues.

The survey also showed that most of the respondents had clients requesting lower salt dishes and were also willing to prepare a dish from scratch with less salt.

Increasing awareness so that consumers ask for less salt in their meals at restaurants may also help reduce the intake among the population when eating out.