For years, public health officials have been telling us that too much salt is bad for our health.

While sodium is needed to carry out normal bodily functions, there is such a thing as overdoing it – and adding it to your cooking, shaking it habitually onto your potatoes or snubbing the warnings on supermarket packaging can come with a price.

With Salt Awareness Week creeping up on the calendar (March 20-26), it’s time to get the facts – just how can an extra pinch or two of the white stuff affect the human body?

How much is too much salt?

The Government recommends both adults and children over 11 years should eat no more than 6g of salt or 2.5g sodium a day (that's around one teaspoon), while younger children and babies should consume considerably less at 2g of salt (0.8g sodium) for 1-3 years; 3g (1.2g sodium) for 4-6 years; and 5g (2g sodium) for 7-10 years.

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What are the effects of excess salt?

High blood pressure

A diet that’s high in salt will have a direct impact on your blood pressure. The science: salt makes your body hold onto water, so therefore if you eat too much salt, any additional water stored in your body will raise your blood pressure and put a greater strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain. Affecting more than one third of adults in the UK, this sinister turn can lead to health issues such as heart attacks, stroke and dementia.

Unquenchable thirst

It may be a common sign of excess sodium, but it’s worth keeping check on extreme thirst as a result of indulging in too much salty food. Dishes with a high amount of salt will mess with the balance of fluid in your body and, as a result, have you reaching for the liquids to rehydrate. If you notice this is a common occurrence, it could be a sign to overhaul your diet.

Osteoporosis

One of the more serious effects of ingesting too much sodium is the risk of developing osteoporosis – a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. The threat here stems from sodium decreasing your bone density, which causes them to become weak and brittle; as well as hampering your body’s ability to absorb calcium – the crucial nutrient needed for bone health.

Persistent bloating

Sick of feeling uncomfortably bloated? A high-salt diet could be to blame. As a mineral that naturally retains water, sodium is a common offender when it comes to water retention and unwelcome swelling. The simple solution is to cut back on sodium – look for low-sodium options or cook your own food to take back control.

Poor kidney health

Much like your heart, brain and arteries, your kidneys can also suffer from too much salt. How? Your body removes unwanted fluid by filtering your blood through your kidney, via osmosis, to draw excess water out of your blood. This requires a balance of sodium and potassium, which is where a high salt diet can upset the balance, causing the kidneys to have reduced function. Such a strain can leave you more susceptible to kidney disease and kidney stones – an ailment caused by an excess of urinary calcium.

[Read more: How to eat mindfully: 7 ways to stop mindless munching, and lose weight]

How do I reduce my salt intake?

One way to eliminate excess sodium is to get to know packaging and familiarise yourself with those foods that already contain a lot of salt, from the obvious ready meals and processed meats to unassuming suspects such as bread and cereal. After all, 75%-80% of the salt we eat is already in everyday products.

Better still, cook as much as you can from scratch. Sauces, marinades, dressings and soups and alike contain unnecessary amounts of sodium and are easy to replicate at home with fresher ingredients.

Finally a good tip is to shake salt into your hand or onto a spoon before seasoning your food – your body will thank you for not being so haphazard.

Do you have any top tips for a lower-salt diet? Tell us what they are in the Comments box below