CHOICE shines spotlight on Australia’s serious salt addiction

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 14th October 2010

Consumer group CHOICE says Australians are consuming far more salt than they are aware of, with sodium levels in food clocking in at alarming levels, and often difficult to detect by taste alone – with a McDonald’s large chocolate thickshake containing the same level of salt as a large fries, and a single roll of Wonka Fruit Tingles containing nearly a quarter of sodium recommended daily intake.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggest no more than 1600mg of sodium a day. However, CHOICE said that most Australians are consuming double the recommended daily intake of sodium, and some as much as 10 times the RDI, putting them at serious risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular and kidney disease.

CHOICE cited a general lack of nutritional awareness and confusion surrounding recommended guidelines in foods, most notably sodium, as the leading cause of this growing epidemic.

“In my view, a lack of government leadership and nutritional data have been major obstacles in Australia’s salt-reduction campaign,” said CHOICE Food Policy Officer Clare Hughes.

“Fundamentally, a government-led nationwide information campaign should be undertaken to educate consumers about the importance of dietary sodium reduction and the impact of their food purchase decisions.”

According to CHOICE, the major culprits are the more than 30,000 types of processed food on Australia’s supermarket shelves. These foods make up more than 75% of our dietary salt intake.

Our national favourite, Vegemite, can also have a large effect on salt consumption, with the sticky yeast spread clocking in at over 3400mg of salt per 100g.

Worryingly, the worst offenders are foods consumers might think of as ‘healthy’, with CHOICE’s review finding 75% of multigrain breads currently exceeding the voluntary agreed reduction target of 400mg/100g. Meat products and cereals were also among the saltiest overall categories.

A survey by FSANZ came up with similar results, finding the highest levels of sodium, per 100g, in sauces, spreads, condiments, potato crisps, cheese, pizza, and processed meat and meat products, including sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls and chicken nuggets.

CHOICE has called for a government-led, nationwide information campaign to reduce dietary sodium, including considering mandatory sodium targets, implementing a traffic light labelling system, and making nutritional information available for takeaway and fast food.