A new report by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that the average Briton still eats too much salt, although the level has come down a little in recent years.

Published today, the FSA report says that results of dietary sodium tests show “a small but significant decrease in the average salt intake of the population since last measured in 2001”.

The tests analysed 24-hour urine samples from 1,200 adults from England, Scotland and Wales.

The overall average salt (sodium chloride) consumption for men and women has fallen from 9.5g to 9.0g a day, with men consuming 10.2g (down from 11g in 2001) a day and women 7.6g (down from 8.1g in 2001).

Following the recommendation of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA), the Chief Medical Officer of England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition have agreed that the daily average salt intake for adult men and women should be no more than 6g a day.

Before the 1990s, surveys showed that the average daily consumption of salt for men was around 10g a day (range 4 – 18g) and for women was around 7.7g (range 3 – 14g). This went up even further when processed food became a larger part of our diets, to an estimated 11g per day on average for men and 8.1 on average for women (2000 – 2001 National Diet and Nutrition Survey).

The FSA says, “Although the decrease is small, it indicates that things are moving in the right direction and that good progress is being made by both the food industry and consumers. It highlights that there is still work to be done to meet the Government’s national target of no more than 6g a day by 2010.”

In the west we eat too much salt. According to Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), a group of UK health specialists, too much salt is linked with high blood pressure, the main cause of strokes and major cause of heart attacks, two of the biggest killers in the world. Salt is also linked with other adverse health problems such as osteoporosis, cancer of the stomach, asthma and obesity.

The American Heart Association suggest various ways to reduce the sodium in your diet:

– Choose fresh, frozen or canned foods that have no added salt.
– Eat unsalted nuts, seeds, pulses.
– Reduce your intake of salty snacks like chips (crisps).
– Avoid adding salt to your food.
– Buy unsalted stock cubes, granules, bouillons, soups.
– Choose fat free or low fat milk, low sodium and low fat cheeses, and low fat yoghurt.
– Ask for your food to be made without salt when you eat out.
– Use spices and herbs to enhance flavour.

The FSA report is published to coincide with the launch of the FSA’s “Full of it” campaign to reduce the nation’s salt consumption. The advertising part of the campaign starts tonight on prime time television.

The advertisements show four types of everyday food: sandwiches, ready meals, pasta sauce and pizza and say how salt levels can vary and that the consumer can always choose the lower salt option. The core message is check the label and pick the food with the least salt.

Chair of the FSA, Deirdre Hutton, said the agency is working with the food industry to campaign for reductions in salt consumption and good progress has been made towards reducing salt levels in line with targets across all sectors of the food industry.

Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint, said, “Everybody has a role to play if we are to reach the Government’s 6g per day salt target by 2010”.

“Increasing consumer awareness is an integral part of driving the market towards lower-salt options, and complements our partnership work with the food industry to deliver across the board salt reductions”, she added.

A number of voluntary, health and public sector groups, including the National Children’s Bureau, the British Heart Foundation, and Kent County Council are working on community projects to reduce salt consumption, assisted by FSA grants.

Retailers and manufacturers working with the FSA on the campaign include Asda, Birds Eye, the Co-op, Heinz, Marks and Spencer, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

The FSA is an independent Government department set up in the year 2000 by Act of Parliament to protect public health and consumer interests where food is concerned.

Click here for full results of the FSA urinary salt tests (PDF reader required).

Click here for Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today