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Lower your salt intake for lower health risks

Australian men are eating almost three times the daily limit of salt recommended by the Government but with some smarter choices they could dramatically cut this amount to help improve their health, a new Australian report has found.

As part of this year's Salt Awareness Week (March 21-27), the Australian Division of World Action on Salt (AWASH) and The George Institute jointly released findings on new research about salt levels in Australian men’s diets. According to AWASH, Australian men consume an average of 10g of salt a day, even though the National Health and Medical Research Council suggests adults should eat no more than 4g of salt a day in order to maintain good health.

Research findings

The report found that while foods commonly eaten by Australian men were contributing to the high levels of salt in their diet, there were simple substitutions for less salty products that could help men achieve significant health gains.

The George Institute analysed a selection of common food and meals ranging from takeaway foods such as pizza and burgers to snacks such as chips and pies and even the humble baked beans on toast. Using their 2010 Food Composition Database, the brands of each type of food with the highest and lowest levels of sodium per 100g were compared to each other to determine the difference in salt content.

For instance, the comparison of same size servings of two similar pizzas from two well-known and well-loved fast food chains found that one had a whopping 72 per cent less salt. Salt turned up in unexpected foods too, such as breakfast cereals and muesli, with some brands were found to be up to 85 per cent more salty than others.

Salt in the diet has been linked to a variety of health problems, and in particularly heart diseases through raising blood pressure, which puts excess pressure on the walls of blood vessels. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is the leading cause of stroke and heart attacks, the most common causes of death and illness in Australian men.

Unfortunately, men are less likely to monitor their blood pressure levels, even though they generally have higher blood pressure than women, and are also less likely to try to do something to lower raised blood pressure levels. The new report offers easy-to-understand comparisons of the salt content between popular foods to help men make better choices about what they eat as one way of reducing their blood pressure. By simply swapping to lower-salt brands of bread, sausages and tomato sauce, it's possible to halve the salt content of your next sausage sizzle, for example.

Commenting on the report, Dr Stan Goldstein, Chief Medical Adviser of Bupa Australia, said:

“Up to 90 per cent of the salt we eat is added to our food during processing or cooking. This study highlights the salt levels in different brands of food commonly eaten by Australian men.

"While the report encourages Australian men to choose products with lower salt content, it's important to note that many of the low-salt options in the report are still processed foods and takeaway that can be high in fat, low in fibre and nutritional value. These high-energy foods should not be eaten as part of a regular diet and are best enjoyed in moderation.

"Young men (and women) are eating too much salt, developing habits that can unknowingly hit them hard over time - there is clear evidence that this is resulting in premature death and disease. The good news is, it's never too early to start reducing the amount of salt you eat to help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.

And by taking further action to eat a healthy, balanced diet, you may be able to stay within a healthy weight range, feel great and reduce your risk of health conditions such as heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and some cancers."

Key facts about salt

  • Salt — called sodium on food labels — is measured in milligrams. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council suggests the adult daily dietary target should be less than 1,600mg sodium (equivalent to 4g salt), with 2,300mg (6g of salt) the maximum daily upper limit. This upper limit is equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt.
  • If you have high blood pressure or an existing heart condition, you should reduce your salt intake to below 4g salt per day or less.
  • About 75 per cent of our salt intake is added to our food during the manufacturing process. We add about another 15 per cent ourselves during cooking and eating. The remaining 10 per cent comes from salt that occurs naturally in food.
  • A low-salt food is one with 120mg sodium or less per 100g while a high-salt food is one with 500mg sodium or more per 100g.
  • The more salt we consume the more our blood vessels retain water. This extra water increases the volume of blood in our arteries, causing high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you’re at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow), stroke, heart attack, heart failure or atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat).
  • The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends that all of us, even those who don’t have high blood pressure, should reduce our salt intake. Reducing your salt intake may also reduce your risk of developing other conditions such as osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney diseases and Meniere’s disease.

Read the report

The George Institute for Global Health. Drop the salt! Salt and Men’s Health: AWASH Key Findings Report. 2011 Mar. Sourced from http://www.awash.org.au/documents/Salt_and_Mens_Health_Key_Findings_Report_FINAL.pdf

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Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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