Salt reduction focus for food industry, new calls

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Related tags: Salt, Food, Food industry

Sixty year olds and over who cut back their salt intake to the
recommended 6g per day could reduce their risk of a stroke by up to
31 per cent, claims a group of cardiovascular experts in the UK,
reports Lindsey Partos.

As Salt Awareness Day kicks off this morning in the UK House of Commons, scientists underline, once again, the crucial role the food industry must play in helping society slice out excess salt from the diet.

High levels of salt intake are believed to be linked to high blood pressure, that can in turn lead to cardiovascular difficulties.

"Companies are responding to the call to reduce salt in their formulations, but there are still those that have, so far, made no moves. These companies will be named and shamed,"​ warns Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of lobbying group Consensus Action on Salt and Health​ (CASH).

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.

For 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,"​ says MacGregor.

At the same time they must immediately start to label clearly the salt content of all their products, he tells FoodNavigator.com.

'Hidden salt' is a key obstacle for the older generation, 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,"​ UK industry body, the Food and Drink Federation, said this week.

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 told FoodNavigator.com.

CASH, a group of scientists linked to the field of cardiovascular disease and all former members of an expert group on high blood pressure set up under John Major's government, is optimistic that "we're on the way" to achieving the 6g target.

And as a caution to the food industry, Professor MacGregor believes the aim will then shift: "Once we're clearly near to 6g, we can then set a 3g target."

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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