Australia's serious salt addiction

Review highlights the hidden salt in everyday foods

Australians are consuming almost 10 times the adequate intake of sodium recommended for good health, putting them at serious risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular and kidney disease. This frightening statistic begs the question: how much sodium should Australians be consuming? Our salt article addresses these concerns.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggests no more than 1600mg of sodium a day; however, Australians are currently exceeding twice this level. But CHOICE says binning the salt shaker may not be enough to reduce our worrying salt intake and the associated health problems.

“Cutting down the salt we add at the dinner table or during cooking will certainly help, but processed foods are the major culprits, contributing more that 75% of our sodium intake. And many consumers would be surprised to know that some supposedly healthy foods are the biggest source of sodium in our diet,” says CHOICE's senior food policy officer, Clare Hughes.

A recent survey conducted by Australian food regulator, FSANZ, showed the foods that contribute most of our sodium intake are breads and breakfast cereals. Despite voluntary sodium targets for breads set earlier this year, a recent CHOICE investigation shows just 25% of ‘healthy’ multigrain breads are currently below this target. What’s more, adding a spread like Vegemite significantly increases sodium intake; a simple Vegemite sandwich could supply around 50% of a young child’s daily limit.

In some foods, this silent killer can remain virtually undetectable as many high sodium foods don’t taste salty. Sweet foods and drinks often hide sodium such as salt or other additives; for instance, a McDonald’s large chocolate shake contains the same level of sodium as a large serving of fries. FSANZ found the foods that contain the highest levels of sodium per 100g are sauces, spreads, condiments, potato crisps, cheese, pizza, processed meat and meat products, including sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls, and chicken nuggets.

So what’s the solution? Clare Hughes comments: “The government is now working with the food industry to reduce salt in some processed foods, but we think mandatory sodium targets must be considered if voluntary reduction fails to have a meaningful impact on our salt intake. A government-led nationwide information campaign should educate consumers about the importance of reducing sodium intake and the impact of their food purchase decisions, and a traffic light labelling system should be introduced to help consumers clearly identify whether a food is high or low in sodium”.

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