We're eating a dangerous amount of salt, warn scientists
Published 05/11/2010 | 05:00
IRISH people are eating dangerously high amounts of salt and efforts to reduce their intake have failed, a new study has found.
Mandatory limits on the amount of salt contained in processed food may be needed to reduce the huge economic and health damage it causes, the report by health promotion body Safefood concludes.
Hundreds of lives could be saved each year if people reduced their salt intake by 50pc which would require cutting down on processed food and meats and eating low-salt bread and cereals.
That is because salt contributes to high blood pressure which is a major cause of heart disease and strokes, the leading causes of death in Ireland.
Irish people now eat an average of 9.3g of salt per day -- compared with the target by health professionals to reduce it to 6g a day or less.
And our salt consumption has not come down in decades, despite efforts to persuade the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in processed food which accounts for most of our salt intake.
Some 86pc of men and 67pc of women are eating more salt than they should be, a new indepth study led by Professor Ivan Perry of University College Cork reveals.
It found men in Ireland eat a shocking 10.4g of salt a day on average, while women eat 7.4g.
Although salt intake in Irish children was not studied, the report notes international findings suggest children as young as three or four could already be eating as much salt as adults because of the huge rise in fast food and snack consumption.
Safefood Director of Human Health, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said there was a common misconception most salt was added at the table -- and that up to 80pc of it was actually "hidden" in processed food.
While some parts of the food industry have made efforts to reduce salt levels, Irish people are eating higher quantities of the foods that contain a lot of salt and also contribute to obesity.
"I would advise that we need to choose lower salt options -- less processed foods and meats and lower salt bread and breakfast cereals," she said at a conference in Cork to discuss the problem yesterday.
The study reveals that processed cereals, breads and potatoes are the biggest source of salt in the Irish diet, followed by meat, fish and poultry.
It calls for clearer labelling of salt content in processed food, with a traffic lights system to be considered as a priority.
It also urges the Government to consider statutory regulation of the salt content in processed food.
"The recent history of public health initiatives in relation to tobacco and alcohol would suggest that voluntary agreements with the food sector will not be sufficient," it said.
Prof Perry said hundreds of deaths each year from cardiovascular disease in Ireland could be prevented if the food industry reduced salt in common food items.
"Effective salt reduction would also prevent an even larger number of non-fatal heart attacks and strokes in Ireland each year with substantial savings in terms of human suffering and healthcare costs," he said.
Safefood will launch a workplace campaign next week to advise people on how to reduce their salt intake.
Salt has been used as a food preservative for over 5,000 years but excessive salt consumption is a problem in most countries. with people eating an average of 9-12g per day.