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Sodium levels in products

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Potassium and sodium
Salt-sodium converter
Research and evidence
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Hypothetical
Progress?
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How much salt is in your bread?

"Health expert Dr Peter Clifton, co-author of The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, has urged the food industry to cut back the amount of salt it adds to bread and breakfast cereals. He told a recent meeting of industry leaders that a modest 20% reduction could reduce the number of Australians suffering a heart attack by 16%, and reduce the number of stroke cases by 23%." (Quoted from Choice, April 2010)

Humans have evolved a taste for salt; salt sells bread, it's unfortunate that an excess of sodium kills people.

This page written 2010/04/19, modified 2017/03/15
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Also see salt in foods generally


Introduction

This page gives the salt content of a number of commonly available breads and bread mixes. I am South Australian, so I have listed those breads that are available in SA, but many breads are sold Australia wide. Most of the research was done in 2010, some updating in 2012.
 

Hold them accountable?

Cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, etc.) is one of the biggest killers of Australians. The tobacco industry was (eventually) held accountable for the disease and death that their products caused, considering Dr Peter Clifton's figures, could the bakers, flour millers and supermarket chains be held accountable for the deaths caused by unnecessary sodium that they are adding to our diets? In a very approximate calculation I estimated that sodium added to breads leads to increasing the number of deaths by more than 2000 per year in Australia. How much responsibility for these deaths should be laid at the feet of those who knowingly produce and market this staple food in a form that is injurious to our health?

Comparison to water

For water to contain 400mg of sodium per 100g (as commonly found in bread) it would likely have a total salinity level of around 15 000mg of salt per litre. (I'm assuming here, for simplicity, that common salt [NaCl] makes up about two thirds of the total salts in the water, it varies.) The UN recommended maximum salinity in water for human consumption is 500mg/L; 10 000mg/L is about the maximum that sheep can survive on and is well above the level that humans could tolerate.

Looking at it from another angle, sea water contains about 1080mg of sodium per 100 grammes, a bit more than twice the sodium content of most breads. (See SeaFriends)

Salted peanuts

Out of interest I checked the sodium content in some salted peanuts. It was 695mg/100g; not a lot more than in many breads, and less than a few.

Common salt is sodium chloride (about 39% sodium and 61% chlorine by mass). It is the sodium, rather than the chlorine, in salt that is thought to be most adverse to health.

Bread makes up a large part of my diet. I try to minimise the amount of sodium in my food, so having bakers or flour millers adding it to my bread annoys me (and kills many others – box on right). (Baking soda, another sodium compound, is also added to breads and bread mixes.) I haven't found any off-the-shelf bread without added sodium. The only way one can avoid salty bread is to make your own, but even then you can't use the commercial bread mixes because the millers add salt to their bread-mixes. Consumers shouldn't have to make their own bread to avoid unhealthy levels of dietry sodium, and many people just don't have the time to make their own bread.

If the sodium level in any bread is greater than about 3mg per 100g you can be sure that the bakery, or the flour miller, has added salt (and/or baking soda). As you can see in the tables below, breads commonly contain more than a hundred times the natural amount of salt.

The National Health and Medical Research Centre suggests that adult Australians should consume no more than 1600mg of sodium per day. It has been reported that "Australian adults eat an average of 9 grams of salt per day, much more than the 1 gram or so that we need". Food Standards Australia New Zealand reports an average of 475mg of sodium per 100g of bread; two slices, weighing in around 80g, make up a quarter of the recommended daily intake of salt.

Why do they add salt/sodium? I'm informed (Alexandra Laucke, pers com) that it improves flavour, "controls yeast multiplication and increases dough strength leading to much better gluten development and stability". Other bakers have said similar things. (In my experience one gets used to the flavour of low salt foods, the love of salty foods can be, to some extent, just a habit, see Research and evidence). What they don't say, but I'm sure is a very big factor, is that salt sells bread; the punters like the taste and are too naïve to link it to the health effects. Why would any one baker unilaterally reduce the amount of salt in their bread if it resulted in reduced sales and reduced profitability? If the industry was concerned about the number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths their products cause they could do it multilaterally; if the government was sufficiently concerned they could mandate it. It is probably difficult to make a good bread without some added salt, but I doubt that any Australian bakers are taking the trouble to find out how much they could reduce the amount of salt and still make a good bread.

If we were to live on plant and animal foods without the addition of sodium chloride we probably would suffer from a deficiency of sodium, but the amounts that are added to prepared foods at present make it almost impossible for anyone to have too little sodium in his diet.

If you eat a significant amount of bread then it will be very difficult for you to avoid excessive sodium; it seems impossible to buy even a low sodium bread mix, and even if you make your own bread mix starting from flour you will probably find that you have trouble with the yeast if you don't add salt.

In Australia the sodium content is stated on the packaging of many breads, some bread-makers also show the potassium content. The sodium contents of breads can best be compared by looking at sodium content per 100g. The table below gives sodium and potassium (where stated on the bread package) in milligrams per hundred grams.

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Sodium levels in products

Traditional (Western) breads
Flat breads
Crumpets and muffins
Crispbreads
Bread mixes
Most breads for which I have found data have sodium levels in the 400 to 500mg/100g range.

The products in each class are arranged in alphabetical order of brand name.
Legend
Colour coding of sodium levels
Less than 200mg/100gGreen
200 to 299Blue
300 to 399Yellow
400 to 499Orange
500 or moreRed
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Traditional (Western) breads

Sodium and potassium content (milligrams per 100 gramms, mg/100g)

I have shown potassium content when it was given on the label
BrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Abbott's Village BakeryLight rye 400   
Country grains400  Inquiry sent 2010/05/01, no reply received by 2010/05/11
Atlantic BakeryLight rye 525 Owned by Goodman Fielder?
BürgenWholemeal with seeds 400263 Inquiry to Bürgen Aust. 2010/05/01. A representative of Bürgen Aust. said that they do not add potassium, it is a natural constituent.
Grains and barley408 331
Buttercup Multigrain420  
White450  
Wholemeal430  
Coles Bakery Multigrain - 10 grains seeds 425  
Soy and Linseed505  
White420  
Wholemeal470  
Flinders BreadWhite540  Flinders Bread is owned by Goodman Fielder
BrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Foodland Jumbo White400  
Jumbo Wholemeal400  
Helga's Soy and Linseed400  Helga's is owned by Goodman Fielder
Pumpkin five seed380 
IGA - SuperLeckerbrot385   
Lawson'sWholemeal410  Lawson's is owned by Goodman Fielder
MolenburgOriginal sandwitch 440  Molenburg is owned by Goodman Fielder
Riviera Bakery Continental Round615  
Wholegrain Foccacia430   
Rye Mill Bakery Vollkornbrot582  
Yeast free rye 428 Same variety in two stores, different amount of sodium
Yeast free rye 607 
BrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Skala Bakery *Dark rye392 104No Net page or email?
SunblessedSoft white400   
Tip Top9 grain wholemeal 370  
9 grain - Pumpkin seed 400  
9 grain - Original 400  
WA Wheatbelt BakehouseDivine Rye 435  
Magnificent Multigrain 500  
Wonder WhiteHifibre500   
WoolworthsFruit 290 Relatively low, but still more than a hundred times natural level
Home-Wholemeal451  
Home-White toast400   
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Lebanese (flat) breads

Sodium and potassium content (milligrams per 100 gramms, mg/100g)

I have shown potassium content when it was given on the label
BrandVarietySodiumPotassium
Bazaar 500 
Wholemeal500 
Flat Bread BakeryWholemeal 240380
Foodland Lebanese BreadWhite Rounds 6 pack 515 
Genuine Lebanese BreadWholemeal 450250
Mission 508 

As flat breads do not need baking soda for leavening, high sodium levels are less excusable in them than if 'normal' breads.
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Crumpets and muffins

Sodium content (milligrams per 100 gramms, mg/100g)

 BrandMakerSodium
CrumpetsGolden 600
Mighty SoftQuality Bakers Assn. NSW 650
MuffinsMighty SoftQuality Bakers Assn. NSW 360
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Crispbreads

Sodium content (milligrams per 100 gramms, mg/100g)

BrandVarietySodium
Vita-Weat100% Natural570
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Bread mixes

Sodium and potassium content (milligrams per 100 gramms, mg/100g)

I didn't find the potassium content printed on any labels

The sodium levels in the finished breads are usually about 30% lower than the levels in the dry mixes, due to the dilution with water when making the bread. The label should state whether the sodium level applies to the dry mix or the finished bread. The colour coding below is based on the sodium level in the finished bread.

BrandVarietySodium
in mix
Sodium
in bread
Comments
DefianceHi-fibre grain 736515 Figures should be checked
White1 1Bread flour, not mix
Laucke Wholemeal? 311 Sodium data supplied by Laucke
2012/03/16
Crusty White ?375
German Grain ?362
Easy Bakers Special White Gluten Free ?720
OrgranGluten free643 450Figures should be checked
Tip TopWhite600 420 Figures should be checked
WallabyUnbleached2 2 Bread flour, not mix
Wallaby is owned by Laucke
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Potassium and sodium?

Potassium is chemically similar to sodium and is much more common in natural foods than is sodium; gardeners and farmers know that potassium is one of the big three plant nutrients, along with phosphorus and nitrogen. (What farmer or gardener would intentially spread salt on his land? It is just as harmful to plants as it is to us.)

So far as I have been able to find out, the problem of too much salt in Western diets is due to the imbalance that it causes between sodium and potassium in the body; that is, the ratio between potassium and sodium in the diet is more important than the absolute amount of either. A natural plant food would typically contain several hundred milligrams of potassium per hundred grams, and probably only one or two milligrams of sodium per hundred grams.

Some bread makers test and report on the potassium content of their products, but most do not.

I was informed by David Hogan of Laucke (floor millers) that "We have investigated substituting Potassium salts instead of Sodium Chloride. There are serious limitations with regard to the level of Potassium Chloride that can be used – due to flavour profile (KCL is quite bitter) and limited functionality; but we are still progressing possible alternatives."

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Salt-sodium converter

Common salt is composed of 39% sodium and 61% chlorine. There are other forms of salt apart from sodium chloride; potassium chloride is particularly important in regard to foods. These conversions are only for sodium chloride, common salt.

To convert from an amount of sodium to an amount of salt multiply by 2.54; to convert from salt to sodium devide by 2.54.

To convert from an amount of salt to an amount of sodium use the left table; for example, if a food contains 100g of common salt then it contains 39g of sodium. To conver from an amount of sodium to an amount of salt use the right table; for example, if a food contains 50g of sodium then it contains 127g of common salt.

Salt to sodium - by mass
SaltSodium
10039
20079
300118
400157
500197
1000393
2000787
Sodium to salt - by mass
SodiumSalt
50127
100254
200508
300763
4001017
5001271
6001525
10002542

UK Food Standards

The UK Food Standards Agency has set a target of no more than 1.1g of salt in each 100g of bread. This is equivalent to 433mg of sodium.
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Research and evidence

The George Institute for International Health found that participants in a test were unable to detect a progressive reduction in the amount of salt in their bread (from 100% to 75% of the starting level) over a six week period. They suggest that "Progressive small reductions on the salt content of foods might be an effective way of reducing dietary sodium intake."

Salt Matters is a site maintained by the Menzies Research Institute of the University of Tasmania. More on Salt Matters is in the Links section of my Salt in Food page.

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Links

General:

For links relating to salt in diet generally see my page on Salt in food.

Flour miller/bread-mix maker:

Laucke

Baking industry:

National Baking Industry Association

Bakers:

Abbott's village Bakery, email 'info@abbottsvillagebakery.com.au'. The Net site gives sodium content of all Abbott's breads (all seem to be close to 400mg/100g).

Bazaar Breads include: Greek Yiros, Pita Pockets, Gourmet Pizza Bases, Tortilla Wraps, Lavash Bread, Turkish Pide, Turkish Rolls and Lebanese Bread. The Net site seems to not give sodium contents of any products.

Bürgen (Australia). Bürgen give sodium and potassium contents of their breads on this site. They make a virtue of making their breads with 'natural ingredients'; yes salt is natural, so are arsenic and strychnine.

Defiance is apparently a part of the Allied Mills group of companies. There seems to be very little information about Defiance on the Allied Mills site and no independent Defiance site.

Goodman Fielder own a number of bread brands: Country Life Bakery, Flinders Bread, Freya's, Helga's, La Famiglia, Lawson's, Leaning Tower, MacKenzie, Mighty Soft, Molenberg, Nature's Fresh, Quality Bakers, Vogel's and Wonder White (and possibly Atlantic Bakery). To email them use advisory.centre@goodmanfielder.com.au. Their Net page does not give the sodium levels in their breads. I sent an inquiry to Goodman Fielder on 2010/05/01; I had not received a reply by 2010/05/11.

Tip Top's Net page does not give the sodium levels in their breads. Email consumer@gwf.com.au. I sent an inquiry to Tip Top on 2010/05/01; I had not received a reply by 2010/05/11.

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Hypothetical

Suppose a butcher discovered that if he added a trace of arsenic to his meats it gave them a nice garlicy tang that was popular with his costomers and increased his sales. Unfortunately there was a downside: a small percentage of his customers died from chronic arsenical poisoning after eating his meats for a few years.

Could he provide sufficient justification for his actions and the deaths by saying "my customers chose to eat the meat knowing what was in it, it's not my fault that it killed them"?

The similarity to the killer sodium in bread should be obvious; the difference is that the hypothetical butcher's customers could have bought their meat elsewhere, buyers of bread – at least in South Australia – cannot buy bread without about a hundred times the natural amount of sodium; it simply is not available.

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Progress?

Just-food, 2010/03/22 carried an article that stated "Leading bread manufacturers George Weston Foods, Goodman Fielder Baking, Allied Mills and Cripps Nubake, as well as Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, have agreed to reduce sodium across bread products to 400 milligrams per 100 grams by the end of 2013." And "Since 2009, George Weston Foods has removed more than 342 tonnes of salt from its Golden and Tip Top product ranges".

This would explain why about a third of the breads in my list contain exactly 400mg/100g of sodium; bakers are lowering salt content as far as they have to and no further. It shows that they can reduce the salt content of their breads without insuperable technical problems; it is a start, it is not enough. I would think that getting the maximum amount of sodium in breads down at least as far as 200mg/100g should be quite achievable (The Menzies Research Institute recommends a maximum of 120 for healthy eating), but the industry will not do it unless they are pushed – salt sells bread.

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High fibre is also needed

Dieticians and cancer specialists (oncologists) have been telling us for many years that we must be sure to have a high level of fibre in our diets. Wholemeal and 'hi-fibre' breads are now widely available. If and when bakers and flour millers stop adding huge amounts of salt to some of their products, they should at least make sure that they provide breads and flours that have both a high level of fibre as well as a low level of salt.

Ethics

In ethics an act of commission has always been considered more blame-worthy than an act of omission; it is worse to kill someone than to fail to save someone from death when it is in your power to do so. The wheat used to make bread flour contains a healthy amount of dietary fibre and is very low in salt. Removing that fibre from the flour and adding salt are both acts of commission that ultimately cause the deaths of many Australians. I am not asking that the millers and bakers take action to improve the health of Australians, I am asking that they stop taking actions that damage our health.

I have written of the Ethics of adding salt to foods in more depth on another page.

Conclusions

I believe that our ancestors developed a taste for salt because they once lived in an environment deficient in salt. That time is long gone. There is no doubt that most people in the Western world have an unhealthily large amount of salt in their diet.

Adding more than a hundred times as much salt as occurs naturally in a staple food such as bread is undesirable, foolish and even immoral; bakers should at least provide some bread varieties that do not contain added salt, or at least significantly lower levels of salt. When consumers have no alternative to the high-salt breads, bakers cannot justifiably hide behind the excuse that they are only providing what consumers will buy; how can they know what consumers will buy if they do not provide low-salt alternatives? Those who produce and sell staple foods, including the big supermarket chains, have a moral responsibility to at least offer healthy alternatives for sale.

I would be pleased to receive feed-back; especially from bakers or bread-mix makers who produce low-salt products.

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Index

On this page...
Bread mixes
Comparison to water
Conclusions
Crispbreads
Crumpets and muffins
Ethics
Flat breads
High fibre too
Hold them accountable?
Hypothetical
Introduction
Legend: colour coding
Links
Potassium and sodium
Progress?
Research and evidence
Salt-sodium converter
Sodium levels in products
Top
Traditional breads
UK Food Standards
Why do bakers add salt to bread?
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