Sodium levels in Australia’s processed foods suggest reformulation “highly feasible”

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 1st February 2010

New research has discovered that there remains significant potential for sodium reduction in Australian processed food products, as food manufacturers report progress in their attempts to reduce salt content.

A definitive baseline assessment of current sodium concentrations in foods is the key to targeting reformulation strategies and monitoring progress, the report – A Systematic Survey of the Sodium Contents of Processed Foods – advised.

An analysis of 7221 products in 10 food groups and 33 food categories by researchers, Jacqueline Webster, Elizabeth Dunford and Bruce Neal, found the food groups that were highest in sodium were sauces and spreads (1283 mg/100 g) and processed meats (846 mg/100 g). Cereal and cereal products (206 mg/100 g) and fruit and vegetables (211 mg/100 g) were the lowest in sodium.

Sixty-three per cent of food categories had mean sodium concentrations above the targets set by the UK’s Food Standards Agency, and most had wide ranges between the most and least salty product. For example, the saltiest frozen potato product was 100 times saltier than the least salty, while there was a 14-fold difference in salt content within the sliced meat category.

However, the researchers did note that progress in salt reduction was being made – both here in Australia and around the world. In some regions there have been targets set to encourage further improvement – something the report, which can be seen in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said needed to be considered here in Australia.

“Many products, particularly breads, processed meats, and sauces, have salt amounts above reasonable benchmarks,” they noted. “The variation in salt concentrations between comparable products suggests that reformulation is highly feasible for many foods.

“The establishment of salt targets for all relevant products is the next step, and leading industry players within Australia have indicated a willingness to embark on this process.”