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Salads saltier than a Big Mac, says survey

By Stephen Daniells , 26-Aug-2010

Manufacturers of ready-to-eat salads have “a long way to go” in producing low-salt foods after a new survey revealed that one in ten salads contains more salt than a Big Mac.

The UK’s Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has found that the ready-to-eat salads on sale in UK supermarkets have massive fluctuations in the salt they contain. Of the 270 salads surveyed only six contained less salt than a packet of potato crisps, said CASH.

“Clearly the manufacturers still have a long way to go if we are to reduce our salt intake to 6g a day and save the maximum number of lives. Every gram of salt removed from our diet is estimated to prevent 6,000 deaths from heart attacks, heart disease and strokes per year, creating potential healthcare savings of £1.5billion per year,” said Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Chairman of CASH.

Salt – a little 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.

And with 80 per cent of salt intake coming from processed foods, many countries have initiated salt reduction programmes, with many holding up the UK’s Food Standards Agency as the torch bearer for national initiatives.

The benefits of a salt global salt reduction strategy 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 per cent could prevent almost nine million deaths between 2006 and 2015.

Survey results

CASH surveyed 270 salad and pasta bowls from supermarkets, high street cafes and fast food chains and found that, despite relatively high levels in some products, progress has been made towards low-salt reformulations.

Compared to 2005 data, the most recent survey showed an average reduction in the salt content in supermarket salads of 23 per cent, from 1.64 grams per portion to 1.26 grams today.

Some products continue to contain high levels however, with the worst offender found to be a Spicy Crayfish Noodle salad from EAT., which contains 3.51g of salt per portion – over half the FSA’s recommended daily amount.

“Many women choose salad as a healthy and convenient lunch, particularly when watching their waistline” said Katharine Jenner, CASH Campaign Manager. “Rather than feeling healthy however, they often feel bloated and sluggish, symptoms of ‘water retention’, which can be caused by the hidden salt in these salads.

“In the long term the health problems are more serious as salt intake is linked to osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Given the healthy image of salads it’s surprising to find that they contain such high levels of unnecessary salt,” she added.

Encouragement

Commenting on the results of the survey, Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “If you’re trying to look after your heart health by having a salad instead of fast food it can be frustrating to find your supposedly healthy option comes laden with salt.

“Some of the salads in this survey provide more than half the recommended daily amount of salt for an adult in just one dish. Over time, eating a diet high in salt can increase your risk of raised blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease and stroke.

“While it’s encouraging that some products have been reformulated since the last survey in 2005, we clearly need to go further to give people a broader choice for lunch on the go with options that are healthy in terms of salt as well as calories, fat and sugar. These need to be clearly labelled too so people know what’s really in the food they buy.”