Beware hidden salt in diet

22:19, Oct 14 2010

A large chocolate thickshake from a fast-food chain contains the same amount of sodium as a large serving of their fries, an Australian consumer watchdog says.

CHOICE has investigated the way unhealthy levels of salt sneak into the Australian diet, and how many innocent-looking foods were included in the line-up.

Processed meats, cheeses and sauces were major offenders, along with apparently healthy breads, common breakfast cereals, even lollies.

"Bread, you don't expect bread to be a salty food, to have too much salt," CHOICE Food Policy Officer Clare Hughes said.

"And while it is not the saltiest food, because we eat more of those products that's why they contribute more to our total (sodium) intake than some of the really super salty foods.

"... Like the sauces and potato chips, and processed meats."

One teaspoon of baking soda contains 1000mg of sodium and people need just 460mg a day for good health, CHOICE says in a special report posted on its website (

A single roll of fizzy fruit lollies contains 350mg of sodium or a quarter of a child's upper daily intake, while a sandwich containing a popular spreadable yeast extract could supply around half.

Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggests no more than 1600mg of sodium a day, however, Australians were thought to be consuming up to twice this level.

Excessive salt in the diet causes high blood pressure, plus cardiovascular and kidney disease, increasing the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack and stroke.

Ms Hughes said Australians should "lose the salt shaker" from the table at meal time, and stop adding salt to home cooked meals, but 75 percent of a person's sodium intake comes from less obvious sources within processed foods.

"The message there is that the food industry has a big role to play and while the government has established a food and health dialogue and is working with manufacturers, and has set targets for breakfast cereals and bread, we're concerned that will take too long," she said.

"We need to be setting mandatory targets for industry, across the whole range of food categories, so we can have a real impact on the health of Australians.

Other high salt foods included spreads and condiments, pizza and meat products, including sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls and chicken nuggets.

Ms Hughes said a handy guide to identifying a "high salt food" was any product containing more than 600mg of sodium per 100 grams.

The nutritional information printed on the back of the pack, can or box must also include a "daily intake per serving" percentage for sodium.

This figure was less reliable, Ms Hughes said, because "most people pour more than the recommended serve".

"Fruit and vegetables are not a problem and if we ate more of those we'd be eating less of the processed foods," she said.