Reductions in salt intake, coupled with better labelling of salt levels in foods, could help to slash stomach cancer rates by 14%, according to new data compiled by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).
The report claims that one in seven cases of stomach cancer could be prevented by reducing the intake of dietary salt to current targets of six grams per day.
The cancer charity says a standardised ‘traffic light’ labelling system for food and beverage packaging could help consumers tackle high levels of salt, fat and sugar consumption. The system tags rising levels of fat, salt, sugar and other nutrients with green, amber and red colours.
“Because around three-quarters of the salt we consume is already in processed food when we buy it, WCRF would like to see traffic light labelling on the front of food and drink packaging to give clear guidance on the levels of salt as well as sugar, fat and saturated fat,” said Kate Mendoza, head of health information at WCRF.
“Standardised labelling among retailers and manufacturers – rather than the different voluntary systems currently in place – would help consumers make better informed and healthy choices,” she added. The traffic lights system places a strong emphasis on making healthy lifestyle choices – such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables – which would prevent illness and disease occurring, she said.
Sodium is a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function. However the average daily salt consumption in the western world (between 10 and 12 grams) vastly exceeds maximum recommendations from WHO/FAO of 5 grams per day.
Such high intakes of dietary sodium have been linked to negative health impacts, including the development of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other health problems.
And with 80% of salt intake coming from processed foods, many countries have initiated salt reduction programmes. The benefits of such reduction strategies were given blinding clarity by a meta-analysis published in The Lancet Chronic Diseases Series in 2007, which concluded that reducing salt intake around the world by 15% could prevent almost nine million deaths between 2006 and 2015.
The topic, however, remains controversial, with a prestigious Cochrane review concluding that salt reduction did not impact cardiovascular disease risk. However, this was subsequently slammed in a re-analysis of the same data in The Lancet , with the authors of this paper stating that salt reduction does provide a significant reduction in cardiovascular events.
The process of reducing salt levels in foods is an ongoing process within the industry, with many now acknowledging that high sodium levels in some foods is a major issue for the industry.
However, the reduction of salt in processed foods is a major challenge because in addition to its role as a flavour enhancer, the food industry has historically added salt (sodium chloride) to foods to enhance shelf life, modify flavour, improve functionality, and control fermentation.
Experts in the area have previously noted a clear need for the food industry to identify technical routes to enable these functionalities to be modified while reducing the concentration of sodium salts and maintaining the consumer experience.