Sodium levels in Australian foods increasing

Despite the increasing awareness about the health impacts of high sodium consumption, a new report has found hidden salt in Australian food has risen almost 10 per cent in three years.

In what the Australian Heart Foundation has labelled ‘deeply alarming’ findings, a George Institute for Global Health report found the average increase in salt in 28 000 food products was 9 per cent.

Between 2008 and 2011, a time when the education and awareness about the dangers of high salt consumption was at its highest, the amount of hidden sodium in foods was actually increasing.

In oils, sodium levels rose by 16 per cent and in sauces and spreads that increase was 13 per cent.

While Australians are becoming more aware of the impacts of sodium consumption, and not ‘directly adding it at the table, many are also unaware about hidden sodium in foods, particularly processed products.

Food labelling in Australia has been slammed in recent years for being confusing and misleading, and last year the federal government pledged to create a mandatory front-of-pack labelling system for all packaged foods in Australia within a year.

A recent survey by consumer watchdog Choice also found the amount of salt in cereals, particularly those aimed at children, is worryingly high.

Despite cereal manufacturers committing to reducing salt in their products, and Kellogg’s declaring they had done so before the deadline, the Choice survey of 195 ‘salt-reduced’ cereals found that salt levels of the products were still far too high.

Despite reductions of at least 20 per cent since the last Choice survey, this year’s cereal survey found Kelloggs, Sanitarium and Aldi brand breakfast cereal versions of ‘corn flakes’ and ‘rice bubbles’ still had significant salt content.

Choice said that while improvements in salt-reduction have been made, many of the Australian cereals ‘did not deserve the healthy image they portray.’

‘We think more energy should be devoted to reducing the sodium and sugar content of cereals, particularly those targeted at children,’ Choice spokesperson, Ingrid Just said.

Choice has also called on more regulation surrounding health claims and serving sizes, with spokesperson Ingrid Just telling Food Magazine last month that manufacturers are deliberately skewing the serving sizes of products to make them appear healthier in the at-a-glance front-of-pack nutritional labelling.

“Those manufacturers who use thumbnail percentage [daily intake] labels on the front of packs often look to that serving size because it brings some of those percentages down,” Ingrid Just said.

“So for consumers who may use that to compare products, they are getting an unrealistic reading, as the serving sizes may not be the same.”

In Australia, manufacturers are responsible for deciding on appropriate serving sizes, and as such, they often vary between different sized of the same product.

A Mars Bar serving, for example, is stated as 18, 36 or 53 grams, depending on the pack size.

Comparatively, the US serving sizes are regulated by government body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Earlier this year the Heart Foundation found the average Australian eats around nine grams of salt a day, about three grams more than the recommended intake.

In May, Dr Robert Grenfell, National Cardiovascular Health Director at the Heart Foundation said “cutting the nation’s salt intake by three grams a day would prevent an estimated 6,000 Australian deaths a year due to heart disease,” adding that the health body is ‘very concerned’ about hidden salt in Australian food.

Are you surprised by the findings about how much hidden salt is in our foods?

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