28/01/2004

NI charity warns on dangers of dietary salt

The NI Chest, Heart and Stroke Association has warned that around 1,000 people will unnecessarily here in the coming year, because they have eaten too much salt.

The charity has accused the Government and food producers of failing to help the public do anything about reducing their salt intake and said that producers must reduce unnecessary salt levels in their products as a matter of urgency.

Salt raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. It also been linked to stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney problems. However, it isn’t easy for consumers to monitor the salt that they use, because most of the salt we consume is ‘hidden’ in processed foods.

Andrew Dougal, Chief Executive of the NI Chest, Heart and Stroke Association, said: “A bowl of cornflakes, for example has the same salt concentration as seawater. The problem is that the average person has no way of telling, simply by looking at the food label. It may list sodium, but to find the true salt content, you need to multiply the sodium level by two and a half.”

A survey carried out among MPs, health professionals and members of the public confirmed this. The survey, carried out by CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), a pressure group of medical specialists, discovered that although people were aware that salt affects their health, more than eight out of ten find current salt labeling incomprehensible.

Mr Dougal said: "The best medical advice is for adults to eat no more than six grams of salt each day and for children to eat only half of that."

CASH and the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association want the Government and food manufacturers to introduce much clearer and simpler labeling. The Co-op was the first supermarket to lead the way, by indicating low, medium or high levels of fat, sugar and salt on its own-brand packaging.

However, there are some things which consumers can to help reduce their salt intake immediately, including: avoiding crisps and eating limited amounts of bacon, sausages and takeaway foods; replacing salt with other flavourings, such as herbs and spices and checking food labels – any food containing more than half a gram of sodium per hundred grams should be avoided.

(KMcA)

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