Nutrition at the heart of the Government’s food policy

The National Heart Foundation of Australia has been asked by the Gillard Government to help the food industry improve the nutritional value in our food.

Dr Lyn Roberts, National CEO of the Heart Foundation, said the organisation would provide the Government with information to help set Government targets for industry in reducing saturated fat and salt.

We re providing nutrition information on a range of important food categories such as bread, breakfast cereal, simmer sauces, processed meat and more recently we provided data on soups, Dr Roberts said. The Heart Foundation, through our Tick Program, has more than 22 years experience in monitoring the food industry.

We re very pleased to be a part of the Food and Health Dialogue a coalition comprising food industry, supermarket retailers, health groups and Government who are working together to bring about nutrient improvements to the foods Australians eat most often.

Foods will be improved by key companies reaching agreed targets and timelines for reducing salt and saturated fat in the foods we eat.

By working together we can achieve the sort of widespread nutrition improvements, required to make Australians healthier, that cannot be achieved by one group in isolation, said Dr Roberts.

While we re very pleased to use our expertise with this work, we d also like to see the Government do more to make our food healthier.

Specifically, we d like to see the Food and Health Dialogue be better resourced and do more active monitoring of food available in our supermarkets.

Diets high in salt and saturated fat can lead to high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol both risk factors for heart disease, which is Australia s number one killer.

As part of the Food and Health Dialogue, Australian food companies have recently agreed to reduce the salt in pasta sauces, Indian-style sauces and other simmer sauces by 15% by 2014.

Cooking sauces are an important category to target for reformulation. Australia s households are very busy and families are always looking for quick and tasty ways to get nutritious foods on the table, which is why these types of sauces are so popular.

But with sauces providing up to 70% of your day s sodium in just one meal, this popular and simple option can easily lead to salt overload. That s why it s so important that gradual salt reduction is phased in right across the category, she said.

Food companies participating in the Dialogue will provide the Government with annual reports of sales data and product composition to enable ongoing monitoring of progress towards the commitments and reporting of the actual amount (tonnes) of salt and saturated fat removed from our foods each year.

We know that food innovation and reformulation works. Similar strategies in the UK, where the Government is working with the food industry and retailers, have shown impressive results, Dr Roberts said.

In Britain the overall amount of salt consumed by adults has fallen by approximately 10%, a reduction that experts have found could save more than 6,000 lives a year. Companies in the Dialogue recognise that salt is widely used across the food supply and are committed to reducing Australian salt intakes.

Some companies have been reducing the salt and saturated fat content of some of their products for years through  reformulation. Now wider commitments are being made to build on these efforts to improve the nutritional health of all Australians, said Dr Roberts.

The Heart Foundation has seen the dramatic improvements that are possible to the foods we eat through its work with the Tick Program and participating food companies reducing the salt, saturated and trans fat and energy and increasing the amount of fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content.

We are excited to see some parts of this work applied more broadly to the foods we buy in the supermarket and while there is much more to be done, we remain very optimistic about the potential for success of this Australian-first collaboration, she said.

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