Consumer heeds salt message

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt, Food, Food industry

UK food watchdog asserts message on salt consumption starting to
reach the consumer, with the help of the food industry.

Nearly one third of food shoppers are making a special effort to cut down on salt, and are reading the food label for content, claims the Food Standards Agency, that based findings on a small population pool of 2000.

High levels of salt intake are believed to be linked to high blood pressure, that can in turn lead to cardiovascular difficulties. Current UK target levels are set at 6g a day.

But at least 26 million people, out of the 60 million UK population, eat more than the recommended maximum daily intake, says the FSA.

Approximately 75 per cent of salt consumed is from processed foods, 10-15 per cent added by consumers and 10-15 per cent is naturally present in food.

The government-funded food agency asserts their latest survey findings could be an encouraging sign that industry and government initiatives to educate the consumer are starting to pay off.

"We are pleased with the response from food companies, that are reducing salt in products and labelling salt as well as sodium."

Consumer groups and government have pushed the food industry to recognise the crucial role it must play in helping society slice out excess salt from the diet.

For UK lobbying group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), the food industry is key to the success of any programme to reduce salt in the nation's diet.

"The Co-op has led the way on salt labelling and we urge all other retailers and manufacturers and all sections of the food industry that add salt to food to follow their example,"​ Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of the group, recently said to FoodNavigator.com.

But he warned last month, that while some companies are responding to the call to reduce salt in their formulations, there are still those that have, so far, made no moves.

"These companies will be named and shamed,"​ he cautioned.

According to persuasive statistics from CASH, if the entire UK population managed to follow the 6g a day salt recommendations, a minimum of 70,000 strokes and heart attacks (35,000 of which would be fatal) could be avoided.

'Hidden salt' is a key obstacle for the older generation in particular, claims CASH, because many of the grey consumers find the labelling of salt on food products "incomprehensible".

A charge denied by the food industry.

"The industry has already made great strides in reducing the amount of salt in a wide range of processed food; published a guide to help consumers understand more about salt, and committed to encouraging all its members to provide 'salt equivalence' on labelling as well as the legally required sodium information,"​ said UK industry body, the Food and Drink Federation.

Food manufacturer Heinz, for example, has launched a 'Reduced Sugar & Salt' (50 per cent drop) version of its iconic Heinz Baked Beans product.

And moving its products to below the UK government's 0.875 per cent target, salt content has been reduced by 20 per cent in standard Heinz Baked Beans between 1999 and 2003, and are undergoing a further 15 per cent reduction, the company claims.

"To make it easy to see at a glance just how much salt a serving of any Heinz variety provides without having to do any sums, Heinz is also introducing 'salt equivalent' labelling on pack.

This will improve consumer awareness about salt content in addition to the full nutrition information panel,"​ a Heinz spokesperson said to FoodNavigator.com.

Europe - East and West combined - produces some 80 million tonnes of salt annually with the food business making up 3 per cent of the overall market.

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