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FSA sets salt intake targets

May 22nd 2003

On the basis of a report on ‘Salt and Health’ from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set targets for reducing the intake of salt (sodium chloride) by both adults and children. SACN was set up to replace the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) and advises the Department of Health and the FSA.

High salt intake is thought to be linked to hypertension (high blood pressure) which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke three-fold. People with hypertension are also twice as likely to die from these diseases than people with normal blood pressure. In England alone hypertension contributes to more than 170,000 deaths per year, while in Scotland the figure is 22,666. Sodium makes up about 2.5 grams in every 6 grams of salt. Although sodium is an essential nutrient, in the amounts commonly consumed at present, it can lead to adverse effects on health. Salt is the main source of sodium in the diet. In dietary terms, 0.5 gram of sodium or more per 100 grams of food is considered to be a lot of sodium while 0.1 gram or less is considered to be a little.

The FSA is advising adults to reduce salt consumption by one third, ie., from an average of 9 grams per day to 6 grams per day. For the first time, recommendations for target levels of salt intake have been set for children according to age, based on the best scientific evidence available and these are:

0 – 6 months, less than 1gram/d
7 – 12 months, 1 gram/d
1 – 3 years, 2 gram/d
4 – 6 years, 3 gram/d
7 – 10 years, 5 gram/d
11 – 14 years, 6 gram/d

The average salt intake of children aged 4 years and older is currently higher than these targets, and relatively higher than that of adults in relation to their bodyweight. The target levels for salt do not represent an optimal or ideal level for consumption but represent achievable population goals intended to achieve significant public health benefits. The report also recommends increasing physical activity, reducing alcohol consumption and obesity levels as part of an overall approach to reducing hypertension in the population.

Although salt consumption can be reduced by cutting down on the amount added during cooking and at the table, approximately 75% of salt consumed comes from processed foods, including bread and cereals. The FSA therefore advises consumers to check the salt content stated on food labels when purchasing. The FSA and Department of Health are in currently in discussion with the food industry to attempt to set reduction targets for the amount of salt in all processed foods. Bread is thought to account for nearly a quarter of total salt in the diet. The bakery industry has already begun to reduce the amount of salt in bread loaves, with the amount of sodium having been reduced by 21% over three years. (This is the equivalent of 13.5 level teaspoons of salt per person per year). The Food and Drink Federation has also made proposals on salt reduction in foods and the FSA will be holding meetings with stakeholders to discuss salt reduction initiatives. summarises research published in the journal Circulation which suggests that people eating a low fat diet, high in fruits and vegetables are likely to show a reduction in hypertension because high levels of calcium and potassium in this type of diet act as natural diuretics and help the body eliminate salt. The findings confirm DASH advice given by the American Heart Association to people with high blood pressure. DASH=dietary approaches to stop hypertension.

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