Salt and the City is a killer and we're awash with it!

A new Australian survey on fast foods has revealed that some manufacturers are delivering an astonishing amount of salt in some of their products.

According to the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) some fast food chains are overdosing us with salt.

The survey which reviewed salt levels in a range of foods sold by six major fast food chains - KFC, Hungry Jack's, Oporto, Red Rooster, Subway and McDonald's - found that most products contained excessive quantities of salt.

AWASH says many fast food meals contain far more salt than the government's recommended daily maximum and fast food manufacturers are pushing up salt consumption to unsafe levels.

In Australia most of us are consuming far too much salt - too much salt has serious implications for a person's health - it can raise blood pressure and has been linked to other conditions, such as heart failure, kidney problems and kidney stones, oedema, stroke, gastric cancer and osteoporosis.

Salt is a chemical compound, an electrolyte, made up of sodium and chloride and has been used for centuries to preserve and flavour foods.

Our main source of sodium is in our diet and a small amount of salt is important for good health as it helps to maintain the correct volume of circulating blood and tissue fluids in the body. However, most people consume much more sodium than they need for good health - Australians consume more than double the amount of sodium that is recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease.

For many people reducing their intake of salt will lower high blood pressure depending on their age and blood pressure and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, and those who are older or overweight, are particularly susceptible to the effect of too much sodium on blood pressure.

Government advice is that people should eat no more than 4 grams of salt a day with an upper maximum limit of 6 grams, most salt in the diet comes from processed and pre-prepared foods and many Australians are currently eating around 9 grams of salt each day.

AWASH says despite government pressure to rid food of problem trans fats there is an unacceptable level of salt in popular fast foods and the salt in meals from fast food chains is a major contributor to premature death and disability in Australia.

The survey revealed that three quarters of the sandwiches and burgers surveyed contained more than half the maximum daily allowance of salt in a single serve - one chicken and chips meal contained a shocking 7 grams of salt - and AWASH says urgent action is required to reduce salt in fast foods.

Professor Bruce Neal, the head of AWASH says companies have responded well to government pressure to rid food of problem fats but salt levels remain very high.

It has also been revealed that some seemingly healthy options served in popular lunch spots can also be very high in salt - a 'healthy' and appealing ham, cheese and tomato sandwich roll from a leading salad chain contained over 5 grams of salt.

Caitlin Reid, author of the forthcoming book Health and the City, says many consumers think they are being health conscious by ordering what they perceive to be healthy lunch options, but they don't realise the amount of salt their choices contain and sandwiches, salads, pastas, soups and risotto are just some of the many 'healthy' takeaway options that can contain alarmingly high amounts of salt.

Professor Neal says 'The Drop the Salt!' campaign is putting pressure on the food industry to reduce salt in foods and consumers can help by asking how much salt is in their lunch and asking for a low salt option.

AWASH has some tips to offer to reduce the salt in the diet and advise that in addition to checking the label and buying low salt foods when we shop, everyone can benefit from eating less salt by following these guidelines when eating out:-

  • When ordering pizza, choose vegetable or chicken toppings instead of pepperoni, bacon, or extra cheese.

  • When buying ready-to-eat packaged foods, choose low-salt options and compare products to find the one lowest in salt using the per 100g column on the Nutrition Information Panel.

  • Limit takeaways and fast foods such as burgers, fried chicken and pizza to an occasional treat and when eating out at a restaurant, ask for sauces and other condiments to be served on the side rather than on the meal and don't add salt to your food.

  • Keep healthy snacks such as dried fruit and unsalted nuts or fresh fruit handy and avoid ordering dishes that contain high salt ingredients including Asian sauces, cured meats and cheeses and ask about the salt content of meals and ask them not to salt the fries!

AWASH is a growing network of individuals and organisations concerned with salt and its effects on health which each year co-ordinates World Salt Awareness Week to highlight the health problems caused by eating too much salt and raise awareness of action needed to be taken.

The theme for this year's World Salt Awareness Week (2nd - 8th February) is Salt and Eating Out and the event Salt and the City will bring together representatives of the food and catering industries with health professionals, food critics, academics and media personnel to raise awareness of high salt levels in foods eaten outside of the home and discuss actions that can be taken to improve food choices.

The book, Health & the City by Caitlin Reid provides simple and practical tips for incorporating healthy practices into busy city lifestyles and more information can be gleaned about World Salt Awareness Week by visiting www.awash.org.au.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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