January 26, 2010

Processed Foods Have Too Much Salt

New research has found that many processed foods contain an over-abundance of salt, and processed meats and sauces are by far the biggest problem.

Public health officials are pushing more and more for the food industry to find ways to cut down the salt content of foods. As people get older, salt becomes a bigger factor in their day to day health concerns, as it raises blood pressure and can increase the risks of heart disease.

The United Kingdom and France have been able to work with food industry leaders and find ways to cut salt intake dramatically, according to Reuters, and New York has recently launched a campaign to cut US salt intake by 25 percent within five years. Australia is currently working toward similar goals as well.

According to Dr. Jacqueline L. Webster and colleagues at George Institute for International Health in Sydney, Australia, many companies are beginning to cut back salt content from their products.

According to a report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, foods that contained more than 500 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams were considered to be high sodium, while foods with less than 120 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams were low sodium.

Researchers collected data on sodium content of more than 7200 products from 10 different food groups. Huge differences were found in salt content within certain food categories. The biggest variations came from cheeses, sliced meats and frozen potato products. By far the worst, frozen potato products had a 100-fold difference in sodium content between high and low contents.

Sauce and spreads held the highest average sodium content with estimates of 1,283 milligrams per 100 grams.

Cereals, fruits and vegetables had the lowest salt contents with 206 mg per 100 grams for cereal and 211 mg per 100 g for fruits and veggies. Nearly 65 percent of the 33 food categories tested had an average sodium content higher than the standards set by UK Food Standards Agency.

An established program to help reduce salt content could have a huge impact on the health industry, helping people avert chronic diseases by lowering blood pressure to safe levels and without high cost drug therapies, said Webster and colleagues. They feel that sodium reduction should be a "national priority."

Roger Clemens DrPH, spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition, agrees that the research by Webster and colleagues is important, and that the data collected provides a solid baseline for foods and sodium content in most foods in Australia. While lowering sodium content is important for health, Clemens suggests that many considerations need to be taken into effect.

"Sodium is needed for food safety and product stability. In addition, there are different flavor and sensory qualities among diverse populations. A successful sodium reduction process is likely to involve several steps, a gradual decrease in sodium such that food safety is not compromised while attempting to reduce the risk of elevated blood pressure among those who may respond to lower dietary sodium," he said.

The data collected in the research provides important information and the tools needed for the continuing effort to reduce sodium concentrations in many foods, and the researchers challenge the Australian government to put a positive plan into action in the effort to decrease salt intake in Australia.

The findings of the research, as well as an editorial by Sonia Angell of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, can be found in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in the February 2010 edition.


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