Going against the grain? Salt levels to be lowered

As part of the Food Standards Agency’s Salt Awareness campaign, the Agency has recently published new voluntary salt targets for food manufacturers and retailers, to further encourage a reduction in the amount of salt in a wide range of processed foods.

The new targets will be challenging to the food industry where voluntary reductions have already taken place, but they are designed to take into account food safety and technical issues, whilst really having an impact on consumer intakes of salt. The Food Standards Agency is progressing towards a target of reducing consumer intakes of salt to 6 grams per day. In the UK, at least 26 million people are eating too much salt and processed foods contribute about 75% of the salt in our diets.

The targets were set after extensive consultation with a number of organisations including consumer groups, public health bodies, academics, food manufacturers and retailers. The reduction targets apply to salt levels in the 85 food categories that contribute most to the amount of salt in our diet. These include everyday foods such as bread, bacon, ham, breakfast cereals and cheese, and convenience foods such as pizza, ready meals, savoury snacks, cakes and pastries.

The Agency has said it is encouraged by steps already taken by food manufacturers and retailers, including Tesco, to voluntarily reduce salt levels in a wide range of products.

As a result of the Agency’s Salt Awareness campaign which began back in September 2004, 20 million more adults say they are cutting down on salt according to the Agency’s Tracking Research, while over half of all consumers in the Consumer Attitudes Survey say they are now checking food labels for salt.

Most people who are cutting back on salt say they have reduced the amount of salt they add to their food at the table or when cooking and sales of household salt have already dropped by 10% in a year.

Research published by Mintel in September 2005 shows that increasingly people are turning to black pepper, herbs and spices, instead of salt, to add flavour to their food.

Cardiologists estimate that if salt intake was reduced to 6 grams per day, 35,000 lives would be saved every year by preventing heart attacks and strokes. Even reducing salt intake by 10% would prevent the same number of people suffering from a long-term disability after a stroke or heart attack.

Food label guidance

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride - it's the sodium in salt that can be bad for your health.

You will usually see sodium included in the nutrition information on food labels. Some products also say how much salt they contain.

Adults should have no more than about 2.5g of sodium a day, which is about 6g of salt.

The nutrition information on a food label will usually have a figure for how much sodium is in 100g of that food.

What's a lot and what's a little sodium?

0.5g sodium or more per 100g is a lot of sodium
0.1g sodium or less per 100g is a little sodium
Between 0.1g and 0.5g per 100g is a moderate amount of sodium.

Sometimes sodium is listed in milligrams (mg). This means you need to divide the milligrams by 1000 to work out the number of grams.

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Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.