Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sydney-based researchers document data from 7,221 food products in 10 food groups. The highest sodium content of around 1283 milligrams per 100 grams was found in sauces and spreads, followed by processed meats (846 mg per100 g).
In a comparison with maximum target levels established by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), seen by many as leading the way in salt reduction initiatives, the Australian researchers report that 63 percent of food categories exceed the FSA targets.
“Many products, particularly breads, processed meats, and sauces, have salt amounts above reasonable benchmarks,” wrote Jacqueline Webster, Elizabeth Dunford, and Bruce Neal from the George Institute for International Health in Sydney.
“The variation in salt concentrations between comparable products suggests that reformulation is highly feasible for many foods,” they added.
Implications for the US
In an accompanying editorial, Sonia Angell from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the new study provided “important documentation of a system designed to describe and track the sodium content of a national food supply-one which may inform future innovations and provide an expanded understanding of the nutritional content of the food supply”.
New York City is leading the way in a partnership of cities and national health organizations to promote a voluntary program of salt reduction in packaged and restaurant foods.
The campaign aims to curb the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25 percent over the next five years. The result would be to cut the nation’s salt intake by 20 percent and prevent up to 800,000 premature deaths/year nationwide and 23,000 deaths in New York City alone, it claims. The sodium in salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart attack and stroke, the nation’s leading causes of preventable death.
Although Americans consume about twice the recommended limit of salt each day, only 11 percent of sodium in the national diet comes from saltshakers; nearly 80 percent is added to foods before purchase.
The work of the Australian researchers and future work to adapt the data to the US market will help in the monitoring of the sodium content of foods. Such monitoring has “been core to the success of national salt-reduction programs”, wrote Webster, Dunford, and Neal.
NY’s new initiative
The National Salt Reduction Initiative has developed targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food.
The initiative includes two-year and four-year targets for each category of food and is said to allow some flexibility in salt thresholds. For example, a company selling three lines of crackers could keep one type extra salty provided its cracker portfolio met the target for crackers.
The recommended daily limit for sodium intake is 1,500 mg for most adults and 2,300 mg for others but some foods, such as deli-meat sandwiches, include that much sodium in one serving. Much of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from breads, muffins and other foods that don’t taste salty.
Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
2010, Volume 91, Pages 413-420
“A systematic survey of the sodium contents of processed foods”
Authors: J.L. Webster, E.K. Dunford, B.C. Neal
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
2010, Volume 91, Page 298-299
“Emerging opportunities for monitoring the nutritional content of processed foods”
Author: S.Y. Angell