Around 70% of our processed meats, cheeses and sauces contain unacceptably high levels of sodium, but it's not always easy to detect. For example, a McDonald’s large chocolate shake contains as much sodium as its large-size fries.
Biscuits, cakes and pastries can be stealth suppliers of sodium, as sodium bicarbonate (bi-carb soda or baking soda) is used as a raising agent - and one teaspoon of baking soda contains 1000mg of sodium (
we need just 460mg a day for good health). It is also used as a filling agent for fizzy or dissolvable sweets. A single roll of Wonka Fruit Tingles contains 350mg of sodium – a quarter of a child’s upper daily intake from only 34g of sweets. Some breakfast cereals
, as our reports consistently show, contain alarming amounts of salt.
Takeaway foods can be packed with salt, but you'd never know, as nutritional information or ingredients don’t need to be disclosed. A 2009 survey by the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) of major fast food chains KFC, Hungry Jack’s, Oporto, Red Rooster, Subway and McDonald’s, showed 75% of burger and sandwich-style products provided more than 50% of an adult's recommended daily sodium limit.
FSANZ has found foods that contain the highest levels of sodium per 100g are sauces, spreads and condiments, potato crisps, processed meat and meat products, including sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls and chicken nuggets, cheese and pizza. CHOICE’s own review of almost 300 pizzas showed 30% are “high salt”; some blow your daily limit with just a couple of slices.
Beware so-called "healthy" products
Recent surveys – including one by the Australian food regulator FSANZ – show that processed foods contributing most to our salt intake are those we consider “healthy”. Our bread and cereal articles certainly confirm this.
Earlier this year, manufacturers George Weston Foods, Goodman Fielder Baking, Allied Mills and Cripps Nubake, and retailers Woolworths, Coles and ALDI agreed to reduce sodium across bread products to 400mg/100g by the end of 2013. CHOICE’s recent review of multigrain breads found just 25% of multigrain breads are currently below this target. Add a spread such as Vegemite to your bread your sodium intake jumps; a simple Vegemite sandwich can supply 50% of a small child's daily limit.
The voluntary target, established by the government’s Food and Health Dialogue, is the same sodium limit as the Heart Foundation’s tick criteria for breads. The foundation cites feedback from industry, current technology and consumer acceptance as the reasons a lower target is not feasible. In Finland –a leader in salt reduction - the ‘Heart Symbol’ is only given to breads with 280mg/100g of sodium or less.
CHOICE is calling for consumer education, clear food labelling and a traffic light labelling system that helps consumers make healthier food choices.