Ask a Nutritionist: Which Is Worse for Your Health? Salt or Sugar?

Hey Jess, with all the mixed messages about salt and sugar on social media, I'm a bit puzzled. What do you think is worse: having too much salt, or too much sugar in your diet?

salt or sugar

Sorting through nutritional advice in the media can often feel like you’re navigating a maze of conflicting information, especially when it comes to salt and sugar. So let’s make some sense of it. Firstly, let’s take a look into what the guidelines suggest. For salt, the official government advice is to remain under 6g per day.

To put this into perspective, that’s about a teaspoon. When it comes to sugar, the magic number is to keep your ‘total sugars’ under 90g per day (this includes natural and added sugars), with free sugars under 30g per day (the sugar you add to your morning coffee for example). In terms of judging the two, let’s start with salt and why you should be mindful of your intake. Sodium, a mineral found in salt, is essential for normal muscle and nerve functions, while also regulating fluid balance.

However, it’s important to note that only a small amount is necessary and it’s quite common to exceed recommended levels. Consuming too much salt is directly linked to elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular issues like heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems, highlighting the importance of the message to cut back.

What about sugar? While the natural sugars found in whole foods such as fruit should be a part of a balanced diet, we need to look out for free sugars that are added to various foods and beverages. The pull of sugary treats may be hard to resist, but overconsumption of added sugars has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, and other health concerns such as diabetes, heart diseaseand tooth decay.

Which is worse? Unfortunately, reaching a clear verdict isn’t so straightforward. It’s worth highlighting that if you are at risk of diabetes, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your sugar intake. On the other hand, if hypertension (high blood pressure) is a concern, managing your salt intake is key. What’s clear is that both salt and sugar can worsen similar risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity, metabolic issues, when over consumed.

Here’s some top tips for reducing your salt and sugar intake:

  • Cook at home and limit the amount you add, give it a taste first.
  • Try adding herbs, spices (or even citrus juices) to your food to flavour your dishes without relying on salt and sugar.
  • Read food labels and check for hidden sources of salt and sugar.
  • Stay hydrated. Often thirst can be mistaken for hunger and the urge to reach for salty snacks.


Sugar and salt often find their way into Western diets a bit too frequently, both having potential health impacts when consumed in high amounts. Rather than casting the blame on one over the other, the real takeaway is moderation. Embracing a well-balanced diet doesn’t mean banishing sugar entirely or a sprinkle of salt on your favourite dish. You just need to find the right balance.

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