Shoppers warned of hidden ingredient: salt

Salt intake in Australia has reached critical levels, with adults consuming almost twice the recommended limit.

This week, during World Salt Awareness Week (29 February – 6 March), VicHealth is calling on shoppers to pay particular attention to the amount of salt they’re consuming through processed foods, to dramatically reduce their risk of developing  serious health problems.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said eating too much salt kills six times more Victorians than the annual road toll, and 1.6 million people worldwide each year.

“We’re eating more than 15,000 tonnes of salt a year in victoria. Children, who typically need less salt than adults, are eating far too much salt, and this can lead to a lifetime of health risks,” Ms Rechter said.

“Salt increases the risk of high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke and blood vessel disease.”

Ms Rechter said this week VicHealth is reminding Victorians to be aware of salt hidden in foods we commonly eat every day, including bread, cheese, processed meats and ready-made sauces.

“Check the sodium content on food labels and look for foods with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g. The best choices are those with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. You might do a double-take when you see how much salt is in something you wouldn’t usually consider ‘salty’, such as pasta sauces,” Ms Rechter said.

Heart Foundation Victoria Director of Cardiovascular Health Programs, Kellie-Ann Jolly, said eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease.

“One in three adults in Victoria, or around 1.1 million people, have high blood pressure so it’s important to be aware of the amount of salt hidden in processed foods,” said Ms Jolly.

“By eating mostly fresh food and choosing lower salt products in the supermarket, we can reduce the amount of salt we eat and prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths from heart disease.”

Dr Jacqui Webster from the George Institute for Global Health said the Australian food industry has been taking steps to reduce salt levels in some food products.

“Our research showed that between 2010 and 2013 salt levels were reduced in bread by 9%, breakfast cereals by 25% and processed meats by 8%. Whilst this is good news, greater action is needed to reduce consumer health risks by cutting salt from all food products.”

“The George Institute’s FoodSwitch app, available in the app store, can be a great tool to helping find lower salt foods in the supermarket,” said Dr Webster.

Last year the VicHealth launched The State of Salt action plan with the Salt Reduction Strategic Partnership. The partnership aims to strengthen health policies and partnerships, develop new ways to work with the food manufacturing industry to reduce the amount of salt in processed food, and increase access to fresh fruit and vegetables that are naturally lower in salt, and undertake further research to reduce salt intake in Victoria.

The Salt Reduction Strategic Partnership includes VicHealth, The George Institute, Heart Foundation, Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN), Kidney Healthy Australia.