Survey reveals lack of salt source knowledge
Monday 5 October 2009
More than three quarters of people (77%) are not aware that bread and breakfast cereals are among the daily foods that contribute most salt to our diet, a new Food Standards Agency survey reveals. The survey’s publication marks the launch of the latest stage of the Agency’s work to reduce people’s salt intake.
The Agency’s new advertising campaign, launched today, is urging people to pay closer attention to the salt levels in the foods they are buying. The campaign features foods that make significant contributions to the salt intakes of UK adults and children. The salt levels of these foods vary across brands, so the campaign encourages people to reduce the amount of salt we eat by checking labels on foods and choosing those that are lower in salt. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which triples the risk of heart disease and stroke and doubles the chance of dying from these diseases.
Rosemary Hignett, Head of Nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Salt intakes are coming down, but if we are to get closer to meeting our target of reducing intakes to a maximum of 6g a day for adults, and lower levels for children, people need to become more aware of the foods which contribute the most, as it isn’t just the obvious things we need to watch out for as far as salt is concerned.
‘We’re not suggesting people stop eating these foods. In fact, we encourage people to eat bread and breakfast cereals, as they are an important part of a healthy diet. But we are saying take a look at the labels to find those that are lower in salt. This could be a supermarket own-label product, and maybe one from the "value" range. If so, any cost saving is an added bonus.
‘We‘ve been working closely with food manufacturers and retailers to encourage them to use less salt in their foods, and are pleased with the progress that is being made. But there is still a wide variation of salt levels in different brands, which is why it is so important that people check the labels.’
More than 2,000 people across the UK were asked about their attitudes to salt. When asked to pick the top three from a list of the 10 foods that contribute the most salt to our diets, only 13% of people mentioned bread, and 12% said breakfast cereals.
The survey also found that many people (40%) believe that supermarket "value" ranges are higher in salt than other ranges, although this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes the cheapest are amongst the lowest in salt. In addition, supermarket own-label versions of some foods, including bread, are often lower in salt than the branded versions.
Other highlights from the survey include:
- when asked to pick the top three contributors from a list of the 10 foods that contribute the most salt to our diets, the foods most commonly mentioned were crisps and snacks (73%), ready meals (65%) and meat products (36%), but only meat products are actually in the top three
- 85% of people tend to stick to the same brands of foods they buy regularly, such as bread, ketchup and breakfast cereals. However, a quarter of these people (26%) said they would change from their usual brand if they knew that a lower salt option was available
- 37% of respondents were either ‘very concerned’ or ‘quite concerned’ about the amount of salt they eat
Around 75% of the salt we eat comes from everyday foods. Foods that contribute the most salt to our diets are not necessarily the saltiest, but the ones we eat most often. The top three foods that contribute salt to our diets are bread, followed by meat products, then breakfast cereals.
In the UK we are eating 8.6g salt a day on average which, although much higher than the recommended 6g, is almost a gram less than we were eating before the Agency launched its salt reduction programme in 2004. With the majority of the salt we eat coming from everyday foods, the Agency wants people to be more aware of this fact, and that it’s possible to reduce the amount of salt we eat simply by checking labels, comparing products and choosing the ones with less salt.
The science behind the story
The Agency's advice on salt intake for adults and children is based on sound science, underpinned by the recommendations of the independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which carried out a thorough and comprehensive risk assessment on salt and associated health outcomes.
The compelling evidence for an association between salt and blood pressure is described in detail in SACN’s report, Salt and Health (2003). SACN identified and evaluated the evidence relevant to an association between salt intake and health outcomes from a wide range of published scientific evidence (approximately 200 studies) that had become available since the Committee On Medical Aspects Of Food And Nutrition Policy (COMA) work in the early 1990s, and the recommendations made at that time to reduce the salt intakes of the UK population to 6g.
SACN concluded that the evidence for a link between salt intake and blood pressure had increased since 1994. The current high levels of salt habitually consumed by the population raise the risk of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and premature death from cardiovascular diseases. SACN confirmed that the population as a whole would benefit from reducing their intake to a maximum of 6g per day. SACN also set lower recommended maximum levels of salt intake for babies and children. The 6g target is supported by many medical and research bodies including the British Medical Association and the Medical Research Council.