24 March 2017

When thinking of making healthy dietary changes, cutting out sugar, carbohydrates and red meat promptly springs to mind – but what about salt? The ‘white gold’ of ancient times that was once key to the expansion of empires has become ever so present in our daily lives. It now contributes to a more modern type of spread – that of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Despite increased public awareness efforts to reduce the consumption of salt in the past decade, many remain unaware that high consumption raises blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, renal disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer. Voluntary salt-reduction initiatives have taken place in the food industry over the years, but significant levels of salt can still be found in for example hot chocolate, cereals and many popular processed foods.

Every year the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) aims to raise awareness of these health consequences through its Salt Awareness Week. 2017 was the 18th edition of the event and C3 staff attended a parliamentary reception where CASH stressed the importance for the food industry and government officials to take immediate action on reducing salt levels in food items.

Survey results released by CASH in March 2017 revealed that only one out of 28 food categories are on course to meet Public Health England’s (PHE) current salt-reduction targets. The targets were set under the 2011 Public Health Responsibility Deal in a bid to ensure that we consume no more than 6g of salt per day. With the deal operating on a voluntary basis however, manufacturers are lagging considerably behind. CASH’s chairman professor Graham MacGregor has called on PHE to immediately ensure that this year’s targets are met and for the agency to swiftly set mandatory targets for the year 2020, something which is also advocated by many supermarkets.

Among the attendees at the reception was Andrea Martinez-Inchausti from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), who suggested that their results are slightly different and ensured that progress has been made. The problem is getting more companies hooked on the mission to reduce salt without them losing sales due to the lack of taste, she said. Many companies are at their limit in terms of how much salt they can reduce, but Andrea shared with the audience that one BRC member met 79 per cent of its salt reduction categories.

CASH closed the reception stressing for a two-fold strategy focusing on product reformulation and education. Individuals have to actively reduce their salt intake and to make this easier CASH has created a new app called FoodSwitch. It helps people understand the nutrition labels on food packaging by scanning the barcode of food. It also searches a database for similar but healthier products, making it easier for consumers to switch to a healthy option.