Processed foods blamed for excessive salt in New Zealand diets

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd December 2011

Processed foods are largely to blame for nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of adult New Zealanders consuming more sodium than current nutrition guidelines recommend, according to researchers from The University of Otago, in New Zealand.

The researchers analysed urine samples taken from 3,000 people who took part in the New Zealand government’s latest adult nutrition survey.

The average sodium intake for New Zealand adults was estimated to be around 3,500 milligrams per day (equivalent to around 9 grams of salt per day). The recommended upper level of sodium intake is 2,300mgs.

Although data from the Adult Nutrition Survey showed that adding salt to food after it has been cooked was associated with a higher sodium intake, even those who reported never adding salt afterwards had a mean sodium intake exceeding the recommended upper level.

High sodium intake is a cause of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), and kidney disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer.

The University of Otago’s Dr Rachael McLean said that it is estimated that around three quarters of salt consumed is from processed foods.

“Individual measures such as limiting addition of table salt will clearly not be enough to reduce intake to the recommended level,” Dr McLean said. “Processed foods need to be reformulated to contain less salt.

“Lowering population sodium/salt intake to below 2300 mgs per day (or six grams of salt per day) for adults would have substantial benefits in reducing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke in the New Zealand population.”

The study found younger New Zealanders and men to have higher estimated sodium intakes, with men aged 19-44 years of age having mean intakes almost double the recommended upper level of intake for adults. One surprising result was that there was no significant difference in intake by ethnicity or deprivation as measured by the New Zealand deprivation index.