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How much salt is in your food?

Posted Nov 01 2010 11:33pm
By Jean Gray
BBC News Online
Person eating a burger Processed foods such as burgers can contain high levels of salt
Over 26m Britons are consuming more than the recommended 6g daily limit for adults in the UK.

BBC News Online looked at the salt content of a variety of everyday foods and how people can lower their consumption.

On average, around 75% of our salt comes from processed foods, which include bread and breakfast cereals.

Most, but not all, packaged foods are labelled, with the amount of sodium in grams per 100g of product.

A gram of sodium per 100g is equivalent to 2.5 grams salt per 100g.

A percentage of an adult's guideline daily amount on each food would be really useful
Nutritionist Sue Baic

Sue Baic, of the British Dietetic Association, is among a lobby of nutritionists pressing for clearer labelling.

She told BBC News Online: "A percentage of an adult's guideline daily amount on each food would be really useful.

"But there is also a role to play by the consumer in buying more fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables and fresh meat, which contain hardly any salt."

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) has worked out the average salt content for many everyday foods.

Bread

While cornflakes have a relatively high content at 0.4g per 40g bowlful, their shredded wheat cousins contain just a trace.

Meanwhile, bought bread has 1.4g per 100g portion. Add a 10g spreading of slightly salted butter to that toast and you have another 0.13g.

If a generous 1g is sprinkled over an egg to go with the toast, and bacon is on the menu, you can add a further 1.75g for a 40g portion.

You can have well exceeded your recommended daily limit and only just finished breakfast!

Our findings show that people can buy ready-made foods with lower salt contents, but they would have to shop in many different supermarkets in order to seek them out
Professor Graham MacGregor, Cash

Go on to have a meal of ready prepared or processed food later and your salt intake skyrockets.

The average portion of deep and crispy supermarket pizza will add a staggering 4.1g of salt to your daily score.

A bought shepherd's pie has 3.4g per 240g slice and a pot noodle 3.75g per 300g, once water has been added.

Children's foods and snacks also contain an unhealthy amount of salt, despite the fact youngsters should limit their intake to less than 4g, depending on their age.

Spaghetti hoops add a further 2g per 210g portion, while potato waffles add 0.7g to the tally per 55g.

Sweet treats, too, can hide salt where it can't be tasted. Chocolate digestives, for example, contain 0.33g per 30g portion, and a 100g flapjack 0.28g.

Cash examined 3,000 foods in 12 UK supermarkets and found considerable variations in salt content between brands.

A full pack of eight Co-op Lincolnshire sausages, weighing 400g, for example, has 4g of salt, whereas the same weight in Kwik Save Cumberland sausage contains 17g.

Another top offender was Sainsbury's Be Good To Yourself Flakes and Orchard Fruit cereal, with 3.68g of salt per 100g, while Iceland managed to limit its similar Wholewheat fruit and nut muesli to just a trace.

Crisps Snacks such as crisps and salted nuts are an obvious area to cut down on

In a typical day, someone eating the most salty foods found in the survey would consume 24g of salt.

By contrast, someone eating an almost identical day's food, but choosing the least salty varieties, would take in only around 4.5g of salt.

"People can buy ready-made foods with lower salt contents, but they would have to shop in many different supermarkets in order to seek them out," said Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Cash.

Dr Hannah Theobald, of the British Nutrition Foundation, told BBC News Online it was possible to become accustomed to less salty foods within a couple of weeks.

She added: "It is possible to get reduced salt varieties of many products now, including tomato ketchup and ready meals.

"Ideally you just need to get used to accepting less salty foods.

"The easiest way to cut your salt intake is obviously not to add it to food, either during cooking or afterwards at the table."

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