01 March 2016 --- A number of everyday UK shopping basket "essentials" now contain more salt than before – with canned tomato soup, cheddar cheese and chilled ready meals being among the worst offenders, according to research by the campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). This is despite the major progress made prior to 2010 when the salt reduction program was under the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Raised blood pressure is one of the two leading factors in causing death and disability from strokes and heart disease. CASH are now urging UK preime minister David Cameron to set up an independent agency for nutrition and to rescue the salt reduction program which has halted or is now being reversed.
Sonia Pombo, nutritionist and campaign manager for Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) tells FoodIngredientsFirst that the negative impact of too much salt in our diets has been known for years. She says: “The evidence associating a high salt diet to raised blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease is overwhelming, with many countries and organizations agreeing it is a worldwide public health concern. In fact, the WHO have listed salt as the second priority in disease prevention, second to tobacco.”
Salt puts up blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of strokes and heart disease; it is also linked to kidney disease, stomach cancer and osteoporosis. With almost 75% of salt intake coming from processed foods, most people aren’t even aware of how much salt they eat on a daily basis.
Pombo adds: “The problem with salt and raised blood pressure unfortunately is that it carries no symptoms, and therefore people often don’t think they have a problem and don’t even realize they are suffering from high blood pressure because very few of us get our blood pressure checked.”
“Additionally, like sugar, most of the salt that we eat is already in the foods that we buy so whilst we might not add a lot of salt to our own food, unfortunately a lot of it is already there. This is why it’s extremely important that the food industry take stronger action in reducing the amount of added salt and sugars in their foods,” says Pombo.
Tinned Tomato Soup
Nearly half (47%) of the soups surveyed contain the same amount of salt (or more) per serving than two slices of Domino’s Cheese & Tomato Pizza. The saltiest soup culprit was Baxters Vegetarian Italian Tomato & Basil with 3.5g salt per 400g serving which contains more salt than a McDonald’s Big Mac and large fries.
CASH reviewed the salt content of tinned tomato soups at regular intervals between 2007 and 2016, and found that despite seeing a successful reduction in salt under the FSA (average 27% reduction between 2007 and 2010), progress has now lapsed. Surprisingly, the salt content in 55% of the products contain the same amount of salt or more now than they did in 2010.
Cheddar and Cheddar Style Cheeses
Cheddar, the nation’s favorite cheese, contains very high levels of salt (99% red warning label on front of pack) e.g. the majority of cheese products surveyed in 2016 (95%) were found to contain more salt per serving than a packet of ready salted crisps.
Salt reduction in cheddar and cheddar style cheeses since 2006 has shown little progress. In fact, values of salt per 100g have remained around 1.8g since 2006.
Bread is the largest contributor to salt in the UK diet and has declined in salt content from an average of 1.2g per 100g in 2001 to 1.00g per 100g in 2011 (17% reduction). Since then, the salt content of bread has only slightly reduced to 0.97g per 100g in 2016 (3% reduction). Some products still have appeared to increase in salt, such as Tesco White Stay Fresh Medium Sliced Bread increased 33% from 0.6g/100g to 0.8g/100g
When surveying the salt content of the popular breakfast cereal, it is clear that a major reduction program took place between 2004 and 2012, with average levels of 2.32g per 100g in 2004 down to 1.03g per 100g in 2012 (56% reduction). Whilst CASH is glad to see further reductions have been made since then, progress has not been as significant (30% further reduction in 2016 to 0.72g/100g), with some even increasing in salt content, e.g. Sainsbury’s Cornflakes increased 42% from 0.74g/100g to 1.05g/100g. Kellogg’s Cornflakes has the highest salt content of all Cornflakes surveyed, three times more salt than Aldi’s Harvest Morn Corn Flakes (1.13g/100g v 0.34g/100g).
Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH explains: “Under the FSA & CASH, the UK led the world in salt reduction. It is a tragedy for public health that the coalition government in 2010 seized responsibility for nutrition from the FSA to the DH where they made the food industry responsible for policing themselves (‘The Responsibility Deal’). Unsurprisingly this has failed and has resulted in many thousands of unnecessary deaths from strokes and heart disease. It’s imperative that responsibility for nutrition be handed back to an independent agency where it is not affected by changes in government, ministers, political lobbying and pressure from the food industry.”
Pombo adds: “The food we eat is now the biggest cause of death and ill health in the UK, owing to the large amounts of salt, saturated fat and sugars added by the food industry.”
“While many food manufacturers initially made a concerted effort to reduce the salt in their products, others are now failing to do so and in turn are putting the nation’s health at risk. To do this, an agency independent of political control and not run by the food industry needs to set regulated targets for salt, saturated fat and sugar to give the food industry a level playing field. Indeed many of the more responsible food companies are now calling on Cameron to do just this.”
Pombo says there are actions that can be taken to reduce the amount of daily salt intake: “Add less salt to cooking and at the table, swap salted snacks for unsalted for example make your own popcorn instead of a packet of crisps. Add flavor to your popcorn with chilli powder or cinnamon instead of salt or sugar.”
“Check labels of processed food items, cook meals from fresh foods instead of purchasing pre made meals. When eating out, ask for low salt options and lower salt ingredients. Ask for salad dressings on the side, and use fewer condiments,” she adds.
For more information on Salt Awareness Week: 29th February – 6th March 2016 please visit http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk
by Elizabeth Kenward
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