30/01/2006

High salt content is 'time bomb' for kids

Northern Ireland’s children are risking heart attacks and strokes in later life because of the amount of salt they eat, according to a leading medical charity.

The Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association (NICHSA) is warning parents and children that due to "hidden salt" in processed foods it is easy to exceed the recommended levels with a diet that most would consider normal.

A breakfast of cornflakes and two slices of toast contains nearly two grams of salt - half the recommended daily intake for primary school children. A small tin of beans has another one and a half grams, and an average burger has a further two. Even food normally considered to be sweet can contain salt. A doughnut, for example, has more than a gram.

The charity’s Director of Health, Myrtle Neill, said: “It’s all very well to read on a food label that tomato ketchup has less than half a gram of salt in a normal serving, but what child eats the manufacturer’s recommended serving? Food producers have made a very slight reduction in the sodium content of bread, but it is still the largest single source in our diet. Even the term “sodium content” can mislead consumers, because you have to multiply the sodium level by two and a half to work out the total salt.”

According the charity, primary school children should limit their daily salt intake to a maximum of four grams, and adults to six - children and adults are consuming up to 12 grams.

Parents are being urged to cook children’s meals from scratch instead of using processed foods and suggests:
  • Adding no salt at the table;
  • Curbing consumption of tomato ketchup and similar sauces;
  • Avoiding processed meat slices or processed cheese in children’s lunch boxes;
  • Providing fruit and water for break times instead of the money for crisps and fizzy drinks;
  • Limiting takeaway food “treats.”
NICHSA Chief Executive Andrew Dougal added: “Food manufacturers are tinkering with the problem, but the sad truth is that the industry is to blame for getting our palates so used to salt over the years. We want to see the introduction of a nationally agreed system of simple and accurate food labelling so that people can make up their own minds.”

Salt has been implicated by many medical studies in conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.

Any food containing less than 0.2 grams of sodium per 100 grams can be considered “low salt”. Anything higher than 0.5 grams per hundred should be eaten only in limited quantities.

(SP)

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