Kiwis eating too much salt, study shows

Last updated 13:00 01/12/2011
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MAKE THE SWITCH: Processed meat, cheese and bread all contain high levels of salt.

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Food manufacturers have been given a big tick for reducing the salt they're putting in food - but we are still eating more than is good for us.

The five-yearly Total Diet Study has just been released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and it shows that New Zealanders are still being exposed to unhealthy amounts of salt in the foods they choose to eat.

Bacon buttie lovers need to switch to unprocessed meat, fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, and perhaps skip the processed cheese and white bread all together.

The survey's nutrition manager David Roberts said many food manufacturers had reduced the levels of sodium being added products, but some still had a way to go.

Since the last survey, sodium levels the population was exposed to had come down.

Many bread and cereal makers, for example, were adding less sodium to their products, low salt options were available for many products, and this was having an impact on how much salt people were consuming.

"The products are there on the supermarket shelves. It's whether the consumer is ready to accept and purchase those products."

While some manufacturers added salt for preserving food, in other instances it was added just for taste.

Both the industry and the consumer had a role to play in reducing sodium intakes, Mr Roberts said.

The survey's project manager Cherie Flynn said it was pleasing to see sodium levels were coming down.

The greatest individual food contributing to sodium intake was bread, closely followed by processed red meat and takeaways were also a significant contributor.

The survey also showed that New Zealand had one of the safest food supplies in the world, Mrs Flynn said.

The levels of lead New Zealanders were exposed to through their food intake were as low now as could reasonably be achieved.

The study tested 123 commonly eaten foods for chemical residues, contaminants and nutrient elements.

Estimated dietary exposures to the 241 agricultural compound residues tested for were all well below their relevant acceptable daily intakes.

Testing for mercury, methyl mercury, cadmium and arsenic also showed New Zealanders had no cause for concern of exposure to these contaminants through their diets.

However ESR senior scientist Richard Vannoort said it was important to remember that all foods needed to be consumed in moderation, as it was the dose of a product that made it toxic.

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Predatory fish such as sharks for example were high in mercury - but people needed to remember that fish could form an important part of a healthy diet by providing protein and fatty acids.

The survey confirmed that low exposure to iodine - which is essential for mental and physical development - continued to be a serious public health issue for New Zealand.

Mrs Flynn said the low level had plateaued which was good news.

Mr Roberts said the 2009 requirement for some bread to be fortified with iodised salt could be having a positive impact, but more work was needed to confirm how much of a difference this was making.

Iodine is currently prescribed free to pregnant and breastfeeding women to counteract the deficient levels in the New Zealand diet.

- The Dominion Post


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