Salt is killing Australians by stealth, say health experts concerned about high volumes of the chemical lurking in foods such as bread and breakfast cereal.
“The foods that are the most problematic are not always the ones you think of as being really salty,” said Dr Bruce Neal, a senior director at the George Institute in Sydney.
“The main source of salt in the Australian diet is bread.”
But obvious sources like cheese and processed meats also contribute a significant amount.
It’s so bad that the average Australian eats one and a half teaspoons of salt a day.
That’s nine grams, which is way above the government’s upper limit of six and the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of five.
Australian adults are each eating 3.2kg of salt every year, which is three times more than we need.
This is a major cause of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of deadly heart attacks and stroke.
About three quarters of Australians’ salt intake is from processed food, according to the Heart Foundation, which is running a Halt Hidden Salt campaign.
Blood pressure problems start in childhood, so it important for everyone to limit their salt intake, says Dr Bruce Nea.
The institute is marking salt awareness week by urging people to read product nutrition labels and switch to lower-salt, or sodium, alternatives.
“We typically say food is low salt if it has less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. It is high if it has about 500mg.”
Easy-to-switch products include breakfast cereal, peanut butter and pre-prepared meals.
“If you like your chicken parma, you can have your chicken parma, just swap to a less salty one,” said Dr Neal, who chairs the Australian division of World Action on Salt and Health.
One of the most powerful tools for reducing salt is a free mobile phone FoodSwitch app from the institute that suggests lower-salt alternatives for food on the supermarket shelf.
People scan the barcode of processed food and it shows a green for good or red for bad. It also lists lower-salt alternatives.
Thousands of unnecessary deaths from heart disease and stroke could be saved if Australians cut their salt consumption, said Heart Foundation dietitian Barbara Eden.
“Australian adults are each eating 3.2kg of salt every year, which is three times more than we need.
“Children also eat more than three times what they need, an alarming 2.2kg each year.”