The food industry has come under fire in recent years for the amount of salt used in products as a body of evidence has linked excess salt (sodium chloride) in the diet to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
The study, by the US-based organization Consumer Reports, which is published in the January 2009 magazine issue of the same name, analyzed the sodium content of more than 100 food samples.
It focused on 37 types of food and four salt substitutes to see how their actual sodium content compared with the amount claimed on the label.
In general it found the labels were accurate and some products actually had less sodium than stated.
However, it claimed that one product, Enrico's Traditional Pasta Sauce No Salt Added, stated on the label that it contained 25 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving, but “one of the three samples we tested had about 160 mg and another had about 250 mg”.
A spokesperson for the Ventre Packing Company, which makes the Enrico's brand, told Food Navigator that an ingredient that it had specified with suppliers to be below certain sodium levels was not being verified by the suppliers before shipping.
Also, the sodium in some of its raw materials had increased naturally, due to growers reducing crop rotations and their water conservation efforts.
The spokesperson said checks have now been implemented to monitor sodium levels. The product label has also been changed from 25mg to 35mg of sodium and a statement has been added saying: “This is not a sodium free food".
Adding sodium is a considered a cheap way to improve the taste and texture of countless processed and prepared foods.
According to the US Dietary Guidelines, over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed foods.
Food manufacturers have been trying to lower salt content, driven by consumer demand and health concerns, and there is a host of products on the market which can be used as alternatives.
Yet the report highlighted that large amounts of sodium appeared in “unexpected places”, such as desserts and that lower-fat products in particular might be higher in sodium compared to full-fat counterparts.
Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports, said: “That’s in part because when fat is taken out of full-fat foods, sodium is sometimes used to compensate for flavor.”
Pressure for change
A recent survey by found that sodium levels had stayed ‘essentially the same’ over the last three years but some companies “could easily lower sodium levels and still have perfectly marketable products”.
In 2005, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to change the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of salt. FDA held a hearing in September 2007 but no action has yet been taken.
On the other side of the debate, the Salt Institute has encouraged a controlled investigation into whether a reduction in salt would really improve public health.
Dietary guidelines recommend that healthy adults get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day but the average American ingests 2,900 to 4,300 mg daily.