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Salt: The forgotten killer

Salt has slipped down to number 3 in a list of food concerns

More than half of the populations are not concerned about how much salt they eat

86% don't know that 6g is the recommended maximum daily amount for salt

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis highlights that salt is one of the UK's biggest dietary health issues

As we are in Salt Awareness Week (20th-26th March), new research shows that although excess salt is an easily modifiable risk factor for high vlood pressire, more than half of the population (58%) are not concerned about how much salt they eat. The recent focus on sugar, championed by many celebrities, appears to have had the effect of side-lining salt consumption. Salt has slipped down the list if public food concerns, with sugar taking the top spot (64%) followed by saturated fat (45%) and then salt (42%). In 2013, fat was the public's biggest dietary concern followed by salt and then sugar.

Despite health care professionals advising adults to keep heir overall salt intake to a maximum of 6g a day (1tsp) an overwhelming 96% of people are unaware of the recommendation What’s more, it is those aged over 55 who are least likely to know the recommendation (10%), despite being the demographic that are most at risk from high blood pressure and stroke, which salt is linked to.

High blood pressure affects 1 in 4 adults****, however 41 per cent of people do not know there is a link between salt and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to many health problems, including heart attacks and strokes, which the research shows are the top health problems the public are most concerned about. A quarter of people do not realise that high blood pressure often has no signs or symptoms.

Salt is still being used widely, with 93 per cent of people using salt at home. It is used in cooking - adding salt to water for boiling vegetables (41%) or pasta / rice (38%). It is also used at the table (19%) – most often on chips (46%). One in five also add salt to their salads and nearly one in ten (7%) add it to their breakfast cereal or porridge. Just 12 per cent use a reduced sodium salt, with 50 per cent going for a normal table salt and sea salt also being popular (38%), both of which are 100 per cent sodium chloride. Pink Himalayan rock salt, which can cost more than ten times the amount of regular table salt***** - despite containing the same amount of sodium, is now being used by more than one in ten people.

GP and medical commentator Dr Sarah Jarvis, BBC Radio 2’s resident doctor, is urging people not to forget the issue of salt in the diet. Commenting on the topic, she said: “Excess salt in the diet is a major international health issue. Salt raises blood pressure and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure affects 1 in 4 adults worldwide and often has no symptoms. Reducing the amount of salt in our diets can help save lives and millions in health care costs. The average person in the UK is consuming 8.1g of salt which is much higher than is recommended, so this is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Caroline Klinge from Klinge Foods, the manufacturers of LoSalt, which conducted the research said: “The majority of salt in our diets comes from processed food, but this research shows that most people are still using salt in food at home too. Following an extensive health campaign by the Food Standards Agency in 2004, targeting the public and food industry, we did see progress in salt reduction, but things have stalled. Salt consumption remains too high and this research shows the issue of salt is declining in people’s minds. It’s vital we see a step change in salt education.”

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis’ advice to help cut down on salt:

Try to cut down on processed food as this is where the majority of salt in our diets come from. Ready meals, readymade sauces and soups are often high in salt

Keep processed meats to a minimum. Bacon, ham and sausages contain salt

Don’t be duped into thinking posh gourmet sea and rock salts are better for you. Some of these manufacturers make very misleading claims. They all contain exactly the same amount of sodium as regular table salt and any other trace minerals will be present in such small quantities that you won’t get any benefit

Avoid seasoning and adding salt to food at home. Try using herbs, spices and lemon juice instead. Weaning yourself off salt takes some getting used to, but your palate will adjust. If you can’t go without salt, then you are better to use a reduced sodium salt like LoSalt instead. It is the sodium in salt which is linked to high blood pressure

Remember, high blood pressure is very common and it often has no symptoms. It usually affects people as they get older and will be checked as part of your NHS health check which you are invited to every five years between the ages of 40-74. It’s important that you attend these health checks as they can help detect early signs for high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

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