Up to 14,000 people die every year because they intake too much salt, in what health campaigners have branded a “national scandal”.
According to the Consensus on Salt and Health (CASH), food producers are failing to meet voluntary reduction targets because it would eat away at their profits.
On average, adults in the UK eat about 8.1g of salt — that is, 3.2g sodium — a day, way above the recommended 6g (2.4g sodium).
But you don’t have to be adding salt to food to be eating too much, according to the NHS: 75% of the salt we eat is already in foods such as bread, cereal and ready meals.
Salt and vinegar crisps contain 1g salt per 34.5g packet, while a 350g supermarket pepperoni pizza may contain more than 5g salt — almost an entire day’s allowance.
Readymade soups, lasagnes, sandwiches and other dishes are also high in salt.
Katharine Jenner, registered nutritionist and campaign director for CASH, describes salt as “the forgotten killer,” given its nature as a “hidden” ingredient.
How does it affect your health?
In short, eating salt raises the amount of sodium in your bloodstream, reducing the ability of your kidneys to remove water, according to Blood Pressure UK.
The result is a higher blood pressure due to the extra fluid and strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys.
The higher your blood pressure, the greatest strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain — and that causes heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.
“A diet high in salt leads to strokes and heart disease, the commonest cause of death in the UK. Reducing salt is the most cost effective measure to reduce the number of people suffering,” says Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of CASH.
How easy is it to reduce salt intake?
The NHS urges shoppers to compare nutrition labels on food packaging, be it pizza, crisps or cereal, and choose the item lowest in salt.
Cured meats and fish are also very high in salt, as are readymade pasta sauces, particularly those containing ham or bacon.
Those looking to cut down should also watch their intake of mayonnaise, soy sauce, mustard and other table sauces.
Furthermore, sea salt’s reputation as being healthier is not strictly accurate.
A teaspoon of table salt is finer, so it has more sodium by volume, but by weight they contain the same percentage of sodium — about 40 percent.
Professor MacGregor described the findings of a FoodSwitch study, which found that some supermarket options contained far higher levels of salt, as evidence of a “national scandal.”
“The UK was leading the world in salt reduction, but Public Health England (PHE) are doing nothing to ensure that the 2017 salt targets are met,” he said.
“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) clearly demonstrated the huge cost savings for the NHS of salt reduction (1g reduction saves £1.5 billion per year, at a cost of less than half a million pounds a year).
“PHE should seize this opportunity and ensure the 2017 targets are met, as well as setting new mandatory targets for 2020, to ensure that we continue to lead the world and save the maximum number of lives.”