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Fast food intake may boost salt preference: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 15-Dec-2009
Last updated on 17-Dec-2009 at 18:06 GMT2009-12-17T18:06:15Z

A preference for fast food may enhance our preference for salt, says a new study from Korea with important implications for salt reduction targets around the world.

Writing in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, scientists from Daejin University report that adolescents with the highest intake of fast food also exhibited the highest level of preference for salt.

Increased intakes of pizza and hamburgers in particular were associated with a “preference for significantly saltier soup”, and is said to be one of the first studies to consider salt perception with regular eating of high-salt foods.

“This study provides basic information for use in devising education programmes in evidence-based nutrition to reduce salt intake,” wrote the researchers.

Although focussing on fast food restaurants, the study may also have implications for food manufacturers. In countries like the UK, Ireland and the USA, over 80 per cent of salt intake comes from processed food, and people therefore do not realize they are consuming it.

Salt – some, but not too much

Salt is of course a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, vastly exceeds recommendations from WHO/FAO of 5 grams per day to control blood pressure levels and reduce hypertension prevalence and related health risks in populations.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set targets of 6 grams per day. A recent study from researchers at St. George's University of London appeared to support the clinical relevance of such recommendations.

The study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that reducing salt intake from 9.7 to 6.5 grams per day reduced average blood pressure from 146/91 to 141/88 mmHg within six weeks.

Study details

The researchers recruited 70 Korean adolescents aged between 12 and 13, and assessed their eating habits using food preferences or frequency questionnaires, and measured their salt preference levels by testing their preferred salinity of beansprout soup.

The results showed that frequent users of fast-food restaurants were more likely to have a higher preference for saltier soup, with frequent pizza and hamburgers most linked to this.

“The present study comprises one of the first investigations designed to assess the effects of eating habits with respect to high-salt foods on the perception of salt taste,” wrote the researchers.

“The results obtained suggest that frequent consumption of certain types of fast food by young teenagers may be associated with a preference for a higher level of salt.

“Further research is required to support these findings in studies controlling hunger, as well as in studies incorporating larger sample sizes and additional test foods, preferably in the setting of an intervention study,” they concluded.

Source: Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Volume 22, Issue 5, Pages 475-480
“Frequent consumption of certain fast foods may be associated with an enhanced preference for salt taste”
Authors: G.H. Kim, H.M. Lee

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