February 3, 2010

AUSTRALIA: Call for salt target to combat 'white death'

. SYDNEY, NSW / The Sydney Morning Herald / Wellbeing / February 3, 2010 By Nick Miller Health experts are calling for government ''salt targets'' for processed and takeaway foods, as a new study shows more than 70 per cent of processed meats, cheeses and sauces contain unacceptably high sodium levels. Researchers from Sydney's The George Institute checked the salt content of 7221 products in 10 processed food groups, in an Australian-first review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The food groups with the highest sodium content were sauces and spreads, averaging 1.3 grams per 100 grams. Half a gram of salt per 100 grams is considered too high. Sodium hit ... bread often contains high amounts of salt. Processed meats were the next most salty food, followed by cereal. As a proportion of the average Australian diet, the saltiest offenders were meat products, followed by bread and bakery products, dairy and cereal. Professor Garry Jennings of Baker IDI Melbourne said he called salt the ''white death'' because of its link to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. ''If everyone consumed less salt you would get health benefits, not just in people with high blood pressure but in the general population,'' he said. ''There is no question it would save lives.'' Recent studies suggest a dietary reduction of three grams of salt a day would prevent 3000-6000 deaths in Australia a year. He said a lot of salt was ''hidden''. ''Bread, for example, is a significant contributor to salt intake but no one ever thinks of it as a salty food - there's no way you can tell unless you read the label.'' The George Institute's Jacqui Webster, lead author of the study, said people could live healthily on one to two grams of salt a day, while the recommended maximum intake is six grams a day - but most Australians eat eight to 10 grams a day. ''The manufacturers put it in for taste - it's not needed as a preservative any more - so there's huge scope for reducing salt in foods,'' she said. Some manufacturers are starting to reduce salt in their products, especially in bread and breakfast cereal. However, there are wide variations in salt content in the same food that can only be spotted by carefully reading labels, and the saltiest products tend to be the cheapest. The study found the worst frozen chips were 100 times as salty as the healthiest and the saltiest cheese had six times the level of the healthiest alternative. Ms Webster and Professor Jennings agreed the government needed to set salt targets, or even mandate maximum salt content in some foods, as is done in the US and Britain. [rc] Source: The Age