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Health Zone: THERE'S MORE IN A SLICE OF BREAD THAN CRISPS. ISN'T IT TIME TO.. Halt the salt.

Byline: Peta Bee and Angela Dowden

WE ALL know that too much salt is bad for us and so try not to be heavy handed when seasoning our food.

In fact, in recent years sales of salt have slumped.

But despite this we're consuming more than ever and its all down to manufacturers.

Up to 75 per cent of the salt we eat is hidden in food. One of the biggest offenders is ready-made meals where salt is used to enhance flavour.

Just one meal can contain more than your entire recommended daily allowance.

Few of us manage to stick to our salt allowance of no more than five to six grams a day, that's just under a teaspoon for women, just over for men.

On average we consume at least twice that. Even the healthiest among us can easily get through 20 teaspoons a week.

You'll be surprised to learn that even a humble slice of bread contains more salt than a pack of crisps. Bread can contain 0.7 gms per slice whereas crisps have 0.5 gms.

And our health is increasingly at risk from too much sodium. It has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, asthma, stomach cancer and osteoporosis.

Most of us have no idea how much we get through - like the two women we asked to record their food intake over three days.

Neither Lisa Laurie, 26, nor Heather Wakeman, 22, ever add salt to their meals and are careful when cooking. Apart from the occasional piece of marmite on toast they eat healthy foods such as pasta, wholemeal bread and bran flakes.

But turn the page to see their food diaries and you'll notice that Lisa ate nearly four and a half teaspoons of hidden salt in just one day.

You'll also find this week's at-a-glance food chart showing just how easy it is to eat too much salt.

The World Health Organisation found that in countries where people eat less than three grams of salt a day, they have the same blood pressure at 65 as when they were aged 15. In Britain, one third of the over-sixties have high blood pressure.

The government estimates that cutting salt by a third could cut heart disease risk by 40 per cent.

The World Cancer Research Trust has recently joined CASH (Consensus on Salt and Health) based at St George's Hospital in London, in lobbying for lower salt levels because of the links with stomach cancer.

Reduced levels of sodium occur through sweating which reduces body water and sodium to the extent that dehydration affects normal activity.

Symptoms include feeling weak, apathy, nausea and cramps.

But because salt is so plentiful in our diets, it's very rare that we suffer a deficiency of sodium.

So why do manufacturers add salt despite the concerns?

Professor Graham MacGregor of St George's says it's down to profits.

"It would cost the industry dear to reduce the levels," he says. "It is one of the cheapest flavour enhancers and allows the addition of water to meat at no extra cost."

One of the major opponents to reducing salt in the diet is the soft drinks industry.

It has been estimated that drinks manufacturers would lose sales of one and a half billion drinks a year if salt consumption was lowered to recommended amounts.

That's a loss of more than pounds 5million.

Two years ago a government white paper on public health announced that the Department of Health, the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and the British Heart Foundation would jointly explore strategies to reduce the amount of salt added to food.

Since then some manufacturers have co-operated. Bread now has ten per cent less salt and Kellogg's has also dropped levels in its cereals by the same margin.

In 1998 Asda announced a 25 per cent salt reduction in more than half of its branded foods and the following year the Co-op was the first UK retailer to promote the use of low sodium salt alternatives.

"There is little doubt that consuming less salt would benefit health," says Professor MacGregor. "But we need further co-operation from the food industry."

Those companies worth their salt will make moves to protect our health.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:703
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