The salt levels in breads has been reduced throughout Australia and New Zealand over the past few years through voluntary changes in the industry, but a report in the Australian Medical Journal (AMJ) shows more improvements could be made.
“It is well established that excess dietary sodium consumed throughout life causes blood pressure to rise with age and greatly increases the risks of cardiovascular diseases,” the report says.
“While there has been some improvement in sodium levels in New Zealand, and while the companies actively engaged in salt reduction efforts are to be congratulated, our data also highlight the need for continued action.
“Better results are likely to be achieved if the governments of Australia and New Zealand take committed leadership of these programs.”
The intake of sodium in Australian and New Zealand is far higher than the recommended levels, attributed mostly to the increase in processed food consumption.
In both countries, bread is one of the biggest contributors to the increased salt levels, accounting for about a fifth of daily intake.
Since 2007, when the New Zealand Heart Foundation and the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health initiated a campaign to reduce salt content in bread, several bread manufacturers committed to reducing levels in their products.
Last year the Australian Government’s Food and Health Dialogue announced new sodium targets of 400mg salt per 100g for Australian breads.
Results showed that while the salt levels have been reduced, most are still above the target, with an average of 435mg per 100g.
The number of breads hitting the target has increased from 29 to 50 per cent between 2007 and 2010.
AMJ reports that while the levels of salt does not vary greatly between white, mixed grain and wholemeal, it does vary between different brands.
Mixed grain bread had, on average, slightly higher salt levels, followed by white and then wholemeal.
Breads produced by George Weston Foods, for example, had lower salt content than Goodman Fielder breads.
While Australia’s sodium content in breads has not reduced in the 4-year-study period, New Zealand has seen a decrease of 7 per cent, but that only brings them down to the same level as Australia.
The AMJ said the study shows sodium can be reduced in breads produced in Australia and New Zealand if companies commit to the change.
“Our findings demonstrate the potential for voluntary salt reduction programs, implemented as collaborations between non-governmental agencies and industry, to effect changes in the sodium content of bread,” the report said.
But the current changes are not good enough, and more improvement needs to be made, with Australia and New Zealand still lagging behind the UK in reaching sodium targets.
“The wide range of sodium levels we identified (115 mg/100 g to 770 mg/100 g) indicates that it is possible to manufacture and market breads with low sodium content, and suggests that the barriers are mostly not technical,” the report states.
Australia’s supermarket giants have also made moves to reduce sodium in their home-brand breads, and while both have shown improvements, only Woolworths has reduced salt to below the recommended levels.
It has gone from an average of 477mg per 100g in 2007 to 394mg per 100g in 2010, while Coles has only managed to reduce its average sodium content to 431mg per 100g from 457mg four years ago.
The report points towards the difference between George Weston Foods and Goodman Fielder, which both manufacture in Australia and New Zealand, but show a significant difference in sodium levels and calls for more government involvement in reducing salt intake.
“In 2010 in Australia, the breads of George Weston Foods had a lower mean sodium content than the breads of Goodman Fielder, but the reverse was true in New Zealand.
“George Weston Foods also decreased the sodium content of its breads to a greater extent in Australia than in New Zealand, while the sodium content of breads made by Goodman Fielder rose in Australia and fell in New Zealand.
“The absence of government leadership is an important reason for this disparity, and while non-governmental organisations can have some impact, they lack the authority and resources of government.
“Strong government leadership has been a central feature of the successful ongoing salt reduction programs in the UK, Finland, the United States and Canada”