Food Matters Live 2020, 13-14 October, virtual event

12 Apr 2018

Action on Salt urged the Government and food industry to step up their efforts to add less salt to our food during Salt Awareness Week.

Action on Salt drew attention to the damaging effects of salt on health during their annual Salt Awareness Week in March. After finding popular Chinese takeaways can contain two days’ worth of salt, the campaign group, previously known as Consensus Action on Salt & Health, called for action from the Government and the food industry to reduce the nation’s salt intake.

The campaign gained wide-spread media coverage with major stories in the press and on social media, reaching millions with messages for healthier eating. 

MPs show their support at the House of Commons

MPs, members of the food industry, health professionals and NGOs showed their support for the campaign at a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday 14 March. It was a chance to discuss the challenges and gaps that need addressing when it comes to providing healthier food, and the strategies that could help reduce salt intakes further, particularly when eating out and on the go. 

Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who chaired the event drew attention to the large amounts of salt added to our food, explaining that salt raises blood pressure – the biggest risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.  She said: “Every 1g of salt reduced could prevent 7,000 deaths in our country [per year]. It is time for us to take bold action on salt reduction.”

Nathalie Pomroy of Whitbread restaurants talked about their commitment to adding less salt to their recipes and making it easier for customers to make informed choices, as well as her hopes for the food industry as a whole. Caroline Klinge of LoSalt talked about the potential benefits of using potassium-based salt replacers in food instead of salt, following the release of a new report by health experts approving their use in manufactured foods. 

Blood Pressure UK was there to give health advice to attendees and talk to food manufacturers about the effect of salt on blood pressure and how everyone can work together to improve the nation’s health. 

Near toxic levels of salt in Chinese takeaways and ready meals highlight the need for Government action and a healthier food industry

In a survey carried out for Salt Awareness Week, Action on Salt found that Chinese takeaways can contain as much salt as five Big Macs. One takeaway meal from London’s Chinatown contained 11.5g of salt, almost double the 6g recommended maximum for a day.  Supermarket versions were not much better; one rice dish contained 4.4g of salt in one portion. 

The survey exposed a huge difference in salt content between brands and restaurants showing there’s no need for meals to be so salty. 

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman for Action on Salt and Blood Pressure UK, called for immediate action from PHE to set new salt reduction targets for the food industry and consider legislation for those who don’t comply, and to consider introducing mandatory food labelling in restaurants.

Professor MacGregor said: “We want reassurance from Public Health England that progress from the food industry will be reviewed sooner rather than later and the salt targets will be reset. We have come a long way and it’s no good quitting now – we still have a long way to go if we are to reach 6g a day target.”

Taking action around the world

The UK wasn’t alone in its efforts. Sister charity World Action on Salt & Health worked with organisations from 100 countries to take on salt globally. There were food surveys in Australia, social media campaigns from the American Heart Association and teams in China, a Salt Symposium in Bahrain and the launch of a salt and sugar reduction programme in Algeria. 

Focus on families 

With support from GP surgeries and pharmacies nationwide, Action on Salt focussed on families working together to eat less salt across the generations, improving health for generations to come. They highlighted the simple changes that families can make to their eating and shopping habits. 

Sarah Alderton, Nutritionist for Action on Salt explained: “Many people know that eating too much salt is bad for their health but think that it’s only a cause for concern later in life. The reality is that even in childhood eating too much salt raises blood pressure, which tracks into adulthood and later life, increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks and heart disease. That’s why it’s important for us all to eat less salt, no matter what our age. 

“Taking simple steps, like removing salt from the table and not adding salt during cooking, will help ensure that youngsters don’t develop a taste for salty food or a habit of adding extra salt. 

“Our taste buds are quick to adapt to less salt – it only takes a few weeks – so you will soon become accustomed to less salt and appreciate the real flavour of the foods. Supporting each other and making the same changes for you and your family will make it easier, and you can be reassured knowing that you are taking positive steps to improve your health together.” 

How to eat less salt

The team from Action on Salt share their tips for cutting down on salt. 

  • Check food labels before you buy and choose less salty options. Opt for reduced salt versions of store cupboard staples like tomato ketchup, brown sauce, baked beans and stock cubes. 
  • Choose canned foods in water with no added salt, such as fish, beans, lentils and vegetables.
  • Swap high salt foods like smoked salmon, bacon, ham and pâté for unsmoked fish, plain cooked chicken or turkey. 
  • Check the label of herb/spice blends and seasoning mixes, rubs and marinades as these can be very high in salt. It’s better to use individual herbs and spices and mix them yourself.  
  • Swap salt and salty sauces like soy, ketchup, BBQ sauce and mayo for other seasonings to enhance flavour to your meals – try a squeeze of lemon juice on fish, garlic and rosemary on potatoes, or spice things up with cayenne pepper and paprika. 
  • Rather than buying pre-prepared seasoned vegetables, buy plain vegetables and add your own seasoning. Try cinnamon or ginger sprinkled on sweet potato and carrots, and basil or oregano on aubergine, courgettes and tomatoes. 
  • Try homemade versions of your favourite meals. Cooking from scratch means you can control exactly what goes in and is much healthier and cheaper than buying ready-made versions and takeaways. Kids can help too! Add plenty of colourful vegetables and limit salty sides like garlic bread, table sauces, chutney and pickles.
  • Swap salty snacks like crisps and popcorn for unsalted nuts, yogurt and fruit, or crunchy carrot and pepper sticks.   
  • Watch portion sizes! What is recommended on pack is often less than you would normally have, and the portion size of takeaway dishes is often far bigger. Rather than buying a main and side for each person why not share one between two or three of you? 
  • Use the free FoodSwitch app to find healthier alternatives to your favourite foods. It has a SaltSwitch filter to help you find similar choices with less salt. 

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