The FSA started its salt reduction campaign in 2004. It is aiming to reduce adults’ intake to 6g per day, since excess salt consumption can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. The current average is 8.6g – way above the recommendation but a gram a day less than before the campaign started, the FSA says.
The agency has set out salt reduction targets for industry for 2010 and 2012 for different food categories, but since salt often plays a technical role it is not always as easy as simply building back the flavour.
The next step of the campaign involves an advertising campaign that shows foods making a big contribution to salt intake – and it is not always those consumers think.
The aim is to encourage people to check the labels while they are doing their shopping.
“We’re not suggesting people stop eating these foods. In fact, we encourage people to eat bread and breakfast cereals, as they are an important part of a healthy diet,” said Rosemary Higness, head of nutrition at the FSA. “But we are saying take a look at the labels to find those that are lower in salt. This could be a supermarket own-label product, and maybe one from the ‘value’ range. If so, any cost saving is an added bonus.
“We‘ve been working closely with food manufacturers and retailers to encourage them to use less salt in their foods, and are pleased with the progress that is being made. But there is still a wide variation of salt levels in different brands, which is why it is so important that people check the labels.”
Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation drew attention to the work food companies in the UK have done on reducing the salt in products like bread, breakfast cereals, cooking sauces, snacks and soups.
“Our members are totally committed to helping consumers eat more healthily – and reformulation is just one of the ways in which we will continue to make a real difference,” he said.
Hunt added that the use of on-pack labelling, such as the industry-devised Guidance Daily Amounts, can help consumers see more easily how much salt is in a portion.
Salt info on-the-go
The FSA has also launched an iPhone application to help shoppers check salt content of products in-store. iPhone users can download the free FSA Salt application from the Apple store, and other web enabled phone users can use the calculator at www.food.gov.uk.
In advance of the new campaign, the FSA conducted a survey of 2000 consumers in the UK about their attitudes to salt. When asked to pick the top three product types for salt content, only 13 per cent said salt and 12 per cent said breakfast cereals.
Forty per cent also said they thought value and own label products were higher in salt, but this is not necessarily the case.