Health campaigners slam UK government as salt in bread revealed as exceedingly high
30 Mar 2023 --- Five popular sliced bread products have more salt than two small portions of McDonald’s French fries, according to Action on Salt. Furthermore, the organization found that three in four analyzed breads contain as much salt or more per slice than a typical 25 g packet of ready-salted chips.
Excessive salt in the staple product has led the Queen Mary University of London-based group to call for the public and private sectors to do better on salt reduction.
“Unfortunately, with the Government failing to enforce salt targets properly or to implement much-needed public health legislation - producing healthy, nutritious food is just not a priority for many food companies,” Sonia Pombo, campaign lead at Action on Salt, tells NutritionInsight.
“Short-term profit is trumping public health – but it is not sustainable. What companies need is a willingness to change and a level playing field. Government must take control and bring in legislated targets for salt, with financial penalties for those that do not comply,” she continues.
Nonetheless, some advances have been made toward reducing salt content in bread, with the amount being cut by 8% compared to previous research conducted in 2011.
“Eight percent over 12 years just isn’t good enough,” notes Pombo.
Lenient 2024 target
The UK has a 2024 maximum salt target set by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2020. However, the target does not convince health advocates.
“We are calling for the government to follow other countries and set mandatory salt targets, particularly for bread which is the main contributor of salt in UK diets,” Pombo explains.
“Twenty countries have mandatory targets in place, which the food industry much prefer, as it levels the playing field and creates stronger understanding and consensus. The current target for bread is clearly too lenient, as many companies are already achieving it,” she continues.
Action on Salt calls directly on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to follow other countries that apply harsher targets and reduce the “thousands of people dying and suffering needlessly from strokes and heart disease.”
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has created benchmarks for different food categories, of which bread is set for 0.83 g/100 g, much better than the UK’s maximum target of 1.01 g/100 g,” Pombo underscores.
To date, only 5% of WHO member states are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies, and 73% lack a full range of implementation of such policies.
The analyzed breads contained between 0.53 and 1.28 grams of salt per 100 grams of bread, across the analyzed categories – white, wholemeal, sourdough, seeded multi-grain/granary and mixed. Only some Rye breads contained less than 0.53 grams of salt, such as Waitrose’s & Partners rye and wheat dark sourdough, which has the lowest salt content at 0.26 grams per 100 grams of bread.
Small changes, big results
According to research by Action on Salt, a 6% reduction in the average salt content of bread would remove 926 metric tons of salt from UK diets, per year, the equivalent of the weight of 132 elephants.
“Bread is the single biggest contributor of salt to our diets and therefore even the smallest of reductions in salt would go a long way for our health. This is why we urgently need companies to double down their efforts to reduce salt further and make salt reduction a priority,” says Sheena Bhageerutty, assistant nutritionist at Action on Salt.
According to a 2021 study from the University of Illinois, slashing sodium in bread is not easy, as it is challenging for consumers to stick to only one serving. The researchers suggested that a combination of reducing salt quantity, physical modification, sodium replacements and flavor enhancers is the best way to slash sodium in bread without sacrificing taste and leavening ability.
“Our survey clearly demonstrates the huge variation in the salt content of bread and shows how easy it would be for those companies lagging behind to reformulate immediately. The time to obfuscate is over – action is needed now. The Government can no longer sit on their hands and do nothing when so many thousands of lives could be saved,” underscores Pombo.
Cheap healthcare measure
Salt is the major factor that raises blood pressure, causing 60% of strokes and 50% of heart disease, according to Action on Salt.
“Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure and reduce the number of people dying and suffering from strokes and heart disease,” says Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt.
“It’s therefore a disgrace that food companies continue to fill our food with so much unnecessary salt, as shown here in bread,” MacGregor concludes.
By Marc Cervera
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