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‘Health warnings needed on ready meals and Chinese takeaways’

Campaigners call for more action to reduce salt in food

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Health warnings should be added to ready meals and Chinese takeaways due to their high salt content.

To mark Salt Awareness Week (March 12-18), campaign group Action on Salt analysed more than 150 dishes and found some contained half an adult's recommended 6g (0.2oz) daily allowance of salt.

Chinese meals in particular stood out for criticism, with some takeaway dishes containing as much salt as five Big Macs — ‘near to the acute toxic levels of salt’.

“With 22 million takeaways eaten by UK adults each week (Chinese being the most popular) there’s an urgent demand to drastically cut salt content,” stated Action on Salt.

Action on Salt is calling on Public Health England (PHE) to take immediate action and resuscitate the UK salt reduction programme, including the setting of new salt targets, making front of pack labelling mandatory and following the lead of the New York City Board of Health which requires chain restaurants to put warning labels on high salt dishes.

The survey also exposed large variations in the salt content of the same dishes but from different restaurants, although generally black bean sauce dishes were saltiest and sweet and sour least.

Of the 141 ready meals surveyed, nearly half (43%) were high in salt (containing over 1.5g/100g or 1.8g per portion) and would receive a red label on the front of the pack. As well as main dishes being high in salt, rice dishes and other sides, such as spring rolls and prawn crackers, also added more salt to meals. For example, Iceland’s takeaway egg fried rice contained 4.1g salt per 350g pack - more salt than 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

“The UK was once leading the world on salt reduction, which was shown to be the most cost-effective public health programme e.g. up to 2011, the UK salt reduction programme had already saved 18,000 strokes and heart attacks per year, 9,000 of which were fatal, with £1.5 billion a year in NHS healthcare saving costs, according to NICE,” states Action on Salt.

“In 2016, PHE assumed responsibility for UK salt reduction, however so far there has been little action, with no progress report on whether the last set of salt targets (due to be met by the end of 2017) have been reached, nor any plans to set new targets.”

Commenting, Sonia Pombo, campaign manager at Action on Salt said, “Our data shows that food can be easily reformulated with lower levels of salt, so why haven’t all companies acted responsibly? The lack of front-of-pack, colour-coded labelling on branded products makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to make healthier choices and that is simply unacceptable. This week, as part of Salt Awareness Week, we are asking everyone, including the food industry, to think first and use less salt.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt, said: “Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year. Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease. We are now calling on PHE to take immediate action.”

Commenting to OnMedica, Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, said: “Our salt consumption has decreased over the last decade - a loaf of bread has forty per cent less than it used to. However, some products are still too high in salt and we know this can be reduced further.

“We’ve been very clear with the food industry on the importance of meeting the 2017 salt targets. We’ll report on their progress this year and will provide advice to government on the next steps.”

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