Campaigners applaud UK ready meal salt cuts

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt, Food, Food standards agency

The salt level in UK ready meals is 45 per cent lower than four
years ago, according to a new survey from the Consensus Action on
Salt and Health (CASH) highlighting the food industry's progress to
reduce levels.

Moreover, a survey of 101 ready meals from eight retailers showed that 84 per cent have already reached the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) 2010 targets for salt content. "This is great news,"​ said Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of CASH. "The UK is leading the world in reducing salt in manufactured food, and the fact that so many companies have managed to re-formulate their products with so much less salt proves that a gradual reduction in salt can be done."​ Salt is of course a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but CASH considers the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, far too high. The pressure has been mounting on food manufacturers to reduce the salt content of their foods and the UK's food standards agency (FSA) recommendation of six grams of salt per day for the general population is understood to be more a realistic target for the next five years than the ideal healthy limit. In the UK, Ireland and the USA, over 80 per cent of salt intake comes from processed food, with 20 per cent of salt intake coming from meat and meat products, and about 35 per cent from cereal and cereal products. The CASH survey should that the average salt content was 1.8g of salt per serving, compared to 3.3g when the FSA surveyed ready meals in June 2003. Furthermore, 66 of ready meals surveyed this year contained two grams of salt of less, with 16 actually containing one gram or less. CASH highlighted the importance of the read meal category in Britain, with over 14 million consumed each week in Britain. "We applaud the supermarkets that have made significant salt reductions - their actions are helping to lower blood pressure in this country and thereby save lives,"​ said MacGregor. It was not pats on the back all round, however, with the survey highlighting that seven per cent of the ready meals tested contained at least three grams of salt per serving. Some 'worrying' results were also obtained, including the finding that some "healthy" options contained more salt than the "standard" products, and some "economy" products with more salt per portion than the retailer's "standard" product. Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure (hypertension), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a disease that causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe. CVD is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year. While much progress has clearly been made in reducing the salt content of various foods, CASH has reiterated that some products still contain very high levels of salt, many of which are aimed at children, and, according to the FSAs traffic light labelling system, would qualify for a 'red' label. Salt remains a vitally important compound in food manufacturing, in terms of taste and preservation. In processed meat products, for example, salt is involved in activating proteins to increase water-binding activity, improves the binding and textural properties of proteins, helps with the formation of stable batters with fat, and also extends shelf-life with its anti-microbacterial effects.

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