Two-thirds of Kiwis eat too much salt

JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN
Last updated 11:45 02/12/2011
Salt

SALT: The everyday ingredient is a factor in heart disease and high blood pressure.

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Processed foods are largely to blame for Kiwis eating too much salt, new research shows.

A new study, which has found two-thirds of New Zealanders eat more salt than is healthy, has prompted calls for salt levels in processed food to be cut.

The latest New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey has found nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of adults are eating more salt than recommended, with adult men typically eating twice the recommended amount.

High levels were even found in people who did not add salt to their food, prompting researchers to point the finger at prepared food.

Otago University senior research fellow Rachel McLean, of the Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research, presented the findings at a conference in Queenstown today.

McLean said the analysis of urine samples taken from 3000 people showed young New Zealanders and men had higher sodium levels, with men aged 19 to 44 having average intakes almost double the recommended level for adults.

About 90 per cent of sodium was consumed as salt and about three-quarters of salt was consumed from that already in processed foods, she said.

Although people who added salt to food after it was cooked had high sodium levels, people who reported never adding salt also had a mean sodium intake higher than the recommended level, she said.

''Individual measures such as limiting addition of table salt will clearly not be enough to reduce intake to the recommended level and that processed foods need to be reformulated to contain less salt.''

The average sodium intake for New Zealand adults was estimated to be nine grams of salt a day, with a recommended upper level of sodium intake of 6g of salt a day, she said.

A surprising result showed there was no significant difference in salt levels between different ethnic groups or depending on deprivation levels.

High sodium intake was a cause of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and kidney disease. It was also associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer, she said.

This was the first time that urine sodium from a nationally representative sample of New Zealanders had been measured and analysed to provide intake estimates, McLean said.

''Lowering population sodium intake to below six grams of salt per day for adults would have substantial benefits in reducing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke in the New Zealand population.''

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- The Press

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