Date Published: 5 October 2009

FSA Reports shoppers still unaware where salt is hidden (UK)

Health Food - illustrating an item from the UK Food Standards Agency.

Over three quarters of people (77%) are not aware that bread and breakfast cereals are among the top salt-contributing foods in our diet, according to a recent Food Standards Agency survey.

About 75% of the salt we eat comes from everyday foods. Foods that contribute the most salt to our diets are not necessarily the saltiest, but the ones we eat most often. The top three salt-contributing foods are bread, followed by meat products, then breakfast cereals.

When asked to pick the top three from a list of the 10 foods that contribute the most salt to our diets, only 13% of people mentioned bread, and 12% said breakfast cereals.

The Food Standards Agency's new advertising campaign on TV, radio and in print, is urging people to pay closer attention to the salt levels in the foods they are buying. The campaign features foods that make significant contributions to the salt intakes of UK adults and children. The salt levels of these foods vary across brands, so a simple way to reduce the amount of salt we eat is to choose the ones that are lower in salt.

The survey also found that many people (40%) believe that supermarket value ranges are higher in salt than other ranges. However, this isn’t necessarily the case and sometimes the cheapest are among the lowest in salt. In addition, supermarket own-label versions of some foods, including bread, are often lower in salt than the branded versions. The only way of knowing for sure is by checking the labels.

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • When asked to pick the top three contributors, from a list of the 10 foods that contribute the most salt to our diets, the foods most commonly mentioned were crisps and snacks (73%), ready meals (65%) and meat products (36%).
  • About 85% of people tend to stick to the same brands of foods they buy regularly, such as bread, ketchup and breakfast cereals. However, a quarter of these people (26%) said they would change from their usual brand if they knew that a lower salt option was available.
  • 37% of respondents were either ‘very concerned’ or ‘quite concerned’ about the amount of salt they eat.

In the UK, we are eating 8.6g salt a day on average, which, although much higher than the recommended 6g, is almost a gram less than we were eating before the Agency launched its salt reduction programme in 2004. With the majority of the salt we eat coming from everyday foods, people need to be more aware of where the salt in their diet comes from, and that it’s possible to reduce this amount simply by checking labels for salt, comparing products and choosing the ones with less salt.

Rosemary Hignett, Head of Nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said:

"Salt intakes are coming down, but if we are to get closer to meeting our target of reducing intakes to 6g a day, people need to become more aware of the foods which contribute to intakes, as it isn’t just the obvious things we need to watch out for as far as salt is concerned.

We’re not suggesting people stop eating or even cut down on bread or breakfast cereals, because they are important part of a healthy diet. But we are saying take a look at the labels to find one that is lower in salt. This could be a supermarket own-label product, and maybe one from the ‘value’ range. If so, any cost saving is an added bonus.

We‘ve been working closely with food manufacturers and retailers to encourage them to use less salt in their foods, and are pleased with the progress that is being made. But there is still a wide variation of salt levels in different brands, which is why it is so important that people check the labels."

 

Source: Food Standards Agency (FSA), UK.

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