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SALT: Just how dangerous is it? HEALTH & BEAUTY.

CAMPAIGNERS now claim that even ready-made sandwiches have salt levels so high that they should carry health warnings. So just how worried should we be?

KAREN HAMBRIDGE reports.

LIKE it or not, as you tuck into a plate of chips, it is a fact that eating a lot of salt is linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

But how many of us actually check how much salt is in the food we eat?

And even more worringly, how many of us actually care?

Well if we want to safeguard our health for the future, the government is keen to get the message across that we all should start caring right now.

But a key problem is that we do not seem to be recognising the true amount of salt we are taking in every day.

That is because it is hidden away in that bacon sarnie we had for breakfast, that packet of crisps we munched on at lunch and the microwave meal we heated up for tea.

Because we are not literally pouring pure salt down our throats, or eating what tastes like salty food, we simply are not counting the spoonfuls going into our bodies.

The recommended daily salt intake for adults is six grams - one teaspoonful - but staggeringly, most of us are putting away twice that amount with an average of 10 to 12 grams.

Trying to keep a track of this can also be confusing, since food labelling often refers to salt in terms of sodium content.

One gram of sodium is equivalent to 2.55 grams of salt - so we should be looking to consume no more than 2.5 grams of sodium a day.

Research shows that at least 35,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks in the UK could be prevented each year if we reduced our salt intake.

So how do we do it?

With about 75 per cent of our intake coming from processed foods, we all need to be checking nutrition labels more carefully and taking into account not only calorie and fat levels, but also levels of salt, or sodium.

Dawn Swan, a community nutritionist with Coventry City Council, says: "Our average daily intake of salt is far too high.

"It is running at 12 grams a day when it should only be six and that is largely due to processed food.

"It is the hidden salt in the products we buy as well as the salt we add during cooking and at the table.

"High levels of salt consumption are seen in people up to about the age of 60, when intake does fall.

"But by that time it is too late and the damage has already been done. These people may already have high blood pressure and their diet may have contributed to that."

She says one of the main problems is the modern trend for choosing convenience foods over traditional home cooking.

Grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime and then popping a TV dinner in the microwave for tea is the norm for many people, often too busy or too tired after a day at work to prepare a meal using fresh ingredients.

"In an ideal world we should try to avoid processed food," says Dawn. "But perhaps that is not realistic.

"There are lower salt brands around and we should be looking out for and buying those if possible.

"Also, foods such as bacon and ham and anything smoked will have relatively high levels of salt, so while they are all right to eat, it is important not to eat too much of them.

"We should also reduce, or better still eliminate entirely, the salt we add while cooking and to meals at the table.

"This is all about people realising they need to make a lifestyle change. We are eating so much more convenience food now - cooking less than we used to and relying on more processed food.

"It is about trying to achieve a balance. If you do eat convenience food try to choose low-salt products, and even it out with foods which are naturally low in salt such as fresh fruit and vegetables."

'Consumers need to be more aware of risks' JULIE FRANKLIN, 38, (left) is studying at The Butts College, and lives in Eastern Green, Coventry.

''I would say I do know how much salt there is in food. When I cook I don't add any and I don't add salt at the table either.

''It's to do with taste and also because of the health risks associated with too much salt.

''Having said that I do like to eat crisps and I know they are high in salt. It doesn't surprise me that 75 per cent of the salt we get is from processed food.

''I know bread is quite high in salt but I don't think there is that much awareness about salt levels in food in the general population.''

RUTH JACKSON, 36, (left) is on an access to higher education course and lives in Stoke Green, Coventry.

''I probably don't know very much about salt levels in food. I suppose I don't take much notice, though I know I should.

''I never add salt to anything and I am aware of the health risks of having too much salt. Bu people don't look for salt on nutrition labels, they look for things like calories and fat content.

''If you can't taste the salt you would think it is a no-salt or low- salt food.

''There should be more awareness.''

NICK WALKER, 32, (right), a Peugeot worker from Canley, Coventry.

''I don't really know about salt in food but I know too much can be bad for you.

''I think one of the problems is that manufacturers don't show clear information about the content of meals.

''Labelling should be clearer so people can see what is in food and what they are consuming.

''Manufacturers ought to try a lot harder to reduce salt levels in food too. It doesn't surprise me that 75 per cent of salt comes from processed food.

''But so many people are eating convenience foods now because of shift working or other commitments.

You just can't always prepare a healthy, fresh meal. Everyone seems to be so much busier these days, there just isn't the time."

fact About 75 per cent of our salt intake comes from processed foods, hidden in things such as bread, cereals, meat products and ready meals.

fact Two sandwiches from Safeway's The Best range contained around the total daily amount of salt in a single serving - weight for weight that equates to well over the salt concentration of seawater.

FACTFILE IN England high blood pressure contributes to more than 170,000 deaths a year.

of these, strokes caused about 50,000 deaths as well as illness and disability.

ON nutrition labels salt is often listed as sodium.

THE recommended amount of salt for adults daily is six grams, the equivalent of one teaspoonful.

FOR sodium, it is no more than 2.5g per day.

EVEN some foods labelled as "healthy options" contain large amounts of salt.

SALT in bread is thought to make up about 25 per cent of our intake, although manufacturers are reducing the amount they add. HOW MUCH SODIUM? ONE gram of sodium is equivalent to 2.55 grams of salt and there are about 2.5 grams of sodium in six grams of salt - so we should be looking to consume no more than 2.5 grams of sodium a day.

AS a rule 0.5 grams of sodium or more per 100 grams of food is high while 0.1 grams sodium or less is low.

SALT and sodium labelling can be confusing for shoppers. Salt can be listed, but often it is down as sodium, which is also found in ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate.

Making salt count TYPICAL SODIUM CONTENTS CRISPS

Walkers Squares (right) Salt and Vinegar

0.5g sodium per 25g pack, 2.1g per 100g

Walkers Smoky Bacon

0.2g sodium per 34.5g pack, 0.7 per 100g

McCoys, Cheddar and Onion

0.2g sodium per 35g pack, 0.7g per 100g

Golden Wonder Wheat Crunchies

0.4 per 31g pack, 1.3g per 100g

BAKED BEANS

Co-op beans

0.9g per 210g half can, 0.4g per 100g

Heinz beans (left)

0.8g per 207g half can, 0.4g per 100g

Heinz Weightwatchers beans

0.7g per 207g half can, 0.3g per 100g

Crosse and Blackwell Waistline beans - claims to be reduced salt

0.3g per 100g

Co-op reduced salt and sugar beans

0.6g per 210g half can, 0.3g per 100g

BREAD

Warburtons Sandwich Roll

0.3g per roll, 0.5g per 100g

Hovis Hearty Wholemeal

0.2g per slice (33g) 0.5g per 100g

Nimble Wholemeal

0.1g per slice (20g) 0.4g per 100g

Warburtons Medium White

0.2g per slice (40.1g) 0.6g per 100g

CEREALS

Kelloggs Co-Co Pops

0.2g per 30g, 0.45g per 100g

Kelloggs Rice Krispies (right)

0.25 per 30g, 0.7g per 100g

Weetabix

0.1g per two biscuits, 0.27g per 100g

Nestle Cheerios

0.3g per 30g, 0.7g per 100g

Shreddies

0.3g per 30g, 0.5g per 100g

Cornflakes

one of the highest levels of sodium with 1g per 100g

MEAT

Bacon

1.5g per 100g

Ham

1g per 100g

Chicken breast

0.3g per 100g

HOW SAFE ARE YOUR SARNIES? ONE of the biggest food culprits for adding salt to our diets is bread.

Two slices of medium sliced white bread give almost a third of the recommended daily intake for an adult.

Manufacturers say they are reducing the salt content but it means if you load your sandwich with other high-salt fillings, reaching your daily recommended intake is still frighteningly easy to achieve.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) recently conducted a survey of high street sandwiches, the sort you grab for a satisfying, and you might reasonably imagine, healthy lunchtime snack.

The results were startling.

Measuring the levels of salt in 250 packaged sandwiches from such outlets as Safeway, Marks and Spencer and Somerfield, CASH found that 44 per cent had 2.5 grams or more of salt per pack and 22 per cent contained more than three grams.

Two sandwiches from Safeway's The Best range - smoked salmon and creme fraiche and chicken Caesar - contained around the total daily amount of salt, 6.4 grams and 5.9 grams respectively, in a single serving.

Weight for weight this equated to well over the salt concentration of seawater.

Some retailers, including Sainsbury's, did not list salt or sodium content, while others, such as Greggs and Baker's Oven, had little or no nutritional labelling at all.

Pret A Manger customers have to look on the company's website to find sodium levels.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of CASH, says: "Many people think sandwiches are a healthy lunch option but how can manufacturers justify selling sandwiches that contain more than half and in some cases all our daily recommended limit of salt in a single serving?

"While some retailers such as the Co-op and Marks and Spencer provide clear information on the salt content in their sandwiches, we found several that give no information on salt at all.

"At the very least they should be labelled so then people can make an informed choice about what they are eating.

"I would like to see those sandwiches with a high salt level - more than 2.5 grams per serving - carry a health warning."

CAPTION(S):

STOPPING THE FLOW: Community nutritionist Dawn Swan thinks we consume far too much salt
COPYRIGHT 2004 Coventry Newpapers
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 17, 2004
Words:1954
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