Home
Index


On this page...

Sodium levels in products
Canned foods
Miscellaneous foods
Who is responsible?
Multilateral action
Ethics of adding salt to food
In other countries
Research and Links

The salt added to our foods [may be] killing us

A Cochrane review made me doubt the connection between dietry salt and cardiovascular disease. Also see Research and Links, below.

Many years of studies have suggested that the artificially high amount of salt in our diets is harmful to our health; it may cause heart attack and stroke among a long list of other problems. The tables below show that salt is added to most processed foods. The practice of adding salt to prepared foods must be responsible for thousands of deaths each year in Australia alone, yet those who add the salt are not being held responsible, nor are they admitting responsibility. It would be interesting to know how the ill-health and deaths due to the salt that is added to our food by food processors compares to the ill-health and death caused by the tobacco industry.

Written 2010/05/15, modified 2017/03/15
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
Home
Index


This page carries on from one I wrote on salt in bread


Introduction

 

Salt and sodium

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.

Ham and cheese sandwich

"Did you know that a ham and cheese sandwich can provide a four year old with more than one-and-a-half times the amount of salt they need daily?"
Quoted from the Heart Foundation
If you read the contents labels of prepared foods in any supermarket you will find that there are usually several hundred milligrams of sodium in each hundred grams of the food; this is several hundred times the amount in most natural foods.

Our ancestors developed a taste for salt because they once lived in an environment deficient in salt. That time is long gone. Adding more than a hundred times as much salt as occurs naturally in foods is undesirable and immoral.

Why do they add salt

In some cases, pickled food in particular, salt acts as an important preservative; in most cases the food manufacturers add salt because people are more likely to buy salty foods than foods without added salt; salt sells food.
Home
Top
Index





Sodium levels in products

Most products for which I have found data have sodium levels of up to 600mg/100g, but some foods contain much more. Natural foods typically contain less than 3mg/100g.

Obviously there is a huge selection of prepared foods available, I have only listed a few that I had readily available to me. There is far more salt than is healthy in many of these foods, however the salt levels are not so consistantly high as is the case for bread.

The products in each class are arranged alphabetically.

Legend
Colour coding of sodium levels
Less than 200mg/100gGreen
200 to 299Blue
300 to 399Yellow
400 to 499Orange
500 or moreRed
Home
Top
Index





Canned foods (and similar foods in jars)

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

I have shown potassium content when it was given on the label
FoodBrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Baked BeansWoolworths Home BrandIn Tomato Sauce 450  
Watties 450 310 
Milk, EvaporatedNestleCreamy 126  
Salsa, ChunkyWoolworthsMedium 426  
Seafood
FoodBrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
MackerelDawnliteIn Tomato Sauce with Chilli 510  Product of Thailand
Mussels, SmokedBlack & Gold  420  
D'OroIn Cottonseed Oil420 95 
Oysters, SmokedInternational Pantry  390190 
Pink SalmonJohn WestNo Added Salt 90300 
SpratsRigaSmoked, in Oil800  One of the highest sodium levels on this page
TunaGreenseasNatural Smoke Flavour 390  
Tuna Flakes 285  
Sirena-La VitaLite, In Oil550   
St. LawrenceIn Spring Water150   
SardinesGlobal SeafoodsIn Tomato Sauce with Chilli 510  
Vegetables
FoodBrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Bamboo ShootsChang'sIn Water 13  Product of China
BeetrootGolden CircleSliced330   
TomatoesFoodlandWhole Peeled 200  
Home
Top
Index





Miscellaneous foods

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

I have shown potassium content when it was given on the label.
In the case of foods that are prepared by adding water the sodium levels shown here are those of the ready-to-eat products.
FoodBrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
Butter/MargarineDevondaleDairy Soft 27023 
CheesePerfect ItalianParmesan1060   
Chocolate CadburyDark Chocolate Chips 2  Note the very low and probably entirely natural sodium level
LindtOrange Intense 50  
DipBlack SwanCaviar 550  
Cheese and chives360   
Golden SyrupWoolworths  207  
Gravy MixGravoxTraditional 610  
White WingsRich Golden Gravy380   
HamColesLeg Portion1060   
FoodBrandVarietySodiumPotassiumComments
HelvaSeraKakaolu (Cocoa)192  Made in Turkey
MacaroniWoolworths100% Durum 2  No added salt?
MettwurstKalleske'swith garlic 1320  
NoodlesIndo MieMi Goreng490  When prepared according to directions
Oat BranBlack & Gold  1  No added salt
Oats, RolledAnchor  10330 
Packet soupSoupremoPea & Ham Soup For a Cup 33064 
PeanutsFoodlandUnsalted1  Typical of the salt level in a natural vegetable food
Peanut ButterSanitarium Smooth590570 
No added salt25 680The salt level is low, but higher than in 'natural' peanuts
WoolworthsSmooth465   
SauerkrautMarco 219  Surprisingly low sodium for a pickle
Taco ShellsOld El Paso  120200 
VegemiteKraft 3489  By far the highest sodium level on this page
Home
Top
Index





Who is responsible?

 

Multilateral action

Individual food manufactures cannot realistically be expected to greatly reduce the amount of salt they add to our foods (see ethics below), but they could act multilaterally. They could accept that they have a moral responsibility to produce more healthy foods and act together to achieve progress.
The food manufacturers must take a large part of the responsibility, it is they who add the salt to our foods; but they can rightly claim that to not add salt would be commercial suicide; salt sells food, any manufacturer who reduces the amount of salt that he adds risks reducing his market share.

The food retailers have a responsibility to stock low salt foods for those customers intelligent enough to look for healthy alternatives; but again, they cannot be expected to stock a lot of foods that very few people will buy.

Politicians and governments are in a position to legislate limits to the amount of salt in foods, but they do not. They have the ultimate responsibility for many of the unnecessary deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases.

Consumers should take responsibility for their own welfare; but how can consumers eat healthy, low salt, foods when it is often impossible to buy such foods; consider bread in particular (see How much salt is in your bread?); it seems to be impossible to buy low salt bread or even low salt bread making mix. Many people lead lives in which they have little time to fully prepare their own food; they are forced by circumstances to buy prepared foods. Such people would find it very difficult to properly limit the amount of salt in their diet.

Home
Top
Index





The ethics of adding salt to foods

The salt that food processors add to our foods eventually kills many of the people who eat those foods. This seems a strong statement, but there is strong evidence to back it up; British research reported by the Australian Heart Foundation indicated that a 10% reduction of salt in British diets saved 6000 lives each year. (See Research and links for this and other relevant research). I need hardly add that killing people without very good cause is considered by most to be unethical.

The food processors who add salt to their foods, in the knowledge that their actions cause those who consume the foods to face a greater likelihood of death, are committing a form of homocide. In particular, those who add high levels of salt to staple foods such as bread, and provide no low-salt varieties, are effectively forcing consumers to eat salt; those people who want to reduce their salt intake are deprived of that option. Beyond the culpability of the bread makers, the ethics of the matter become more complex.

 

A taste for salt

Salt, or more accurately, the sodium and chlorine that are the constituents of salt, are necessary for health. However, like so many things, in excess sodium in particular is injurious to good health.

I believe that our ancestors evolved a taste for salty foods because they at one time lived in an environment where salt was deficient. To maintain good health they had to seek out things that tasted salty. Modern humans, who have too much salt in our diets, still have that liking for the flavour of salt.

Consumers make the decision to buy particular breads based on several factors, among which are price and flavour; some consumers consider the healthiness of the foods, but few give this a high priority. In the box on the right I have touched on our liking for salty flavours. Salt is very cheap, adding salt to a food does not increase the cost of producing that food (in fact it probably marginally reduces the cost because it takes the place of some of the other components which are more expensive). So, food processors who wants to sell their products, and they all want to do that, add enough salt to their foods to optimise the flavour. Do they consider the ethical aspect of their action? Perhaps they do.

If any particular food processor was to stop adding salt to his foods the customers would find the flavour less appealing and would probably buy competing brands. (This ethical dilemma, in which it is the least ethical who best prosper, is called The Tragedy of the Commons, it is the same problem that stops individual nations from unilatarily reducing their greenhouse emissions.) So if there ever were any food processors sufficiently ethical to refrain from adding salt to their foods they would have put themselves out of business and would now be long gone!

Food processors could act together to reduce the amount of salt in our diets, but this becomes very complicated in the global market that now exists. In the case of a staple food like bread, very little of which is imported, multilateral action is possible and some progress is taking place, although it is far too little.

In the absence of action from the food industry one must ask whether government has a moral responsibility to act. It would not be difficult for government to place limits on the amount of sodium that any foods sold in Australia may contain; different limits might well be needed for different foods. But the right of people to eat high-salt foods if they desire to do so must be considered. An approach similar to that taken with the tobacco industry could be appropriate; allow the production and marketing of unhealthy high-salt foods, but discourage their consumption by limitations on advertising and conspicuous labelling with health warnings.

People have the right to eat high-salt foods if they choose to, but they also have a right to minimise the amount of salt in their diets. At the present, there are often no low-salt products available; this is especially so in the case of bread, a staple in the Western diet.

Home
Top
Index





Dietary salt and soil

 

Sodic soil

Put very simply soil sodicity is to do with soil structure. Too much sodium (in relation to calcium and magnesium) in clay – and almost all soils contain at least some clay – makes the clay impermeable to plant roots, nutrients and water, reduces the soil's fertility, and makes it more prone to erosion.
The risk of making garden soil sodic by irrigating with greywater (water from bathrooms and laundries) is well known; there is often a high level of sodium in soap, shampoo and laundry products, and when the greywater is used continually on a garden for a long period the soil can become sodic.

In small towns and rural areas people dispose of their blackwater (water from lavatories) together with their greywater via septic tanks into the soil. In addition to this it is becoming increasingly common for sewage water from cities and towns, after processing, to be used for irrigation. High dietary sodium levels result in high levels of sodium in sewage and this becomes a problem in making soils sodic.

Home
Top
Index





What's happening in other coutries?

USA

The US ABC reported...
The American Medical Association has asked the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers can put in their products. Specifically, the AMA wants the FDA to withdraw salt from the list of foods that are "generally recognized as safe." In its recommendations, the AMA called for a "50 percent reduction in sodium in processed foods, fast food products, and restaurant meals to be achieved over the next decade."

UK

A 10% reduction in salt intake has been achieved and a reduction in the number of deaths caused by dietary salt of 6000 per year has been linked to this reduction.
Home
Top
Index





Research and links

For links specific to salt in bread and bread-making-mix see my page on Salt in Bread.

Cochrane review: Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. In a few words, the review finds the evidence unconvincing.

Cochrane review: Does altering dietary salt intake aid in the prevention and treatment of diabetic kidney disease? A quote:

"There is strong evidence that our current consumption of salt is a major factor in increasing blood pressure (BP), whether BP levels are normal or raised. Diabetes makes it more likely to develop high BP, which increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks and speeds up the progression of diabetic kidney disease."

AFN (Aus Food News) carried a very relevant article: "Reducing salt in bread could reduce heart attacks and stroke" on 23 Feb. 2010.

foodandhealth.communications, a US site, states that "The average American consumes about 4000 to 5000 mg of sodium per day or about 10-12.5 grammes of salt." It also says that "a safe minimum intake might be set at 500 mg/day". (sodium). The site states that "The vast majority of the scientific evidence indites excess dietary salt as the single most important factor contributing to the development of hypertension" (hypertension is high blood pressure).

The Heart Foundation has a lot of information on salt in diet and its effect on health. (The Heart Foundation reported that there has been a 10% reduction in salt consumption in Britain and this has 'saved more than 6000 lives a year'. If the population of Australia is 1/3 that of britain then it would follow that a similar 10% reduction in Australia would save more than 2000 lives per year in Australia.)

The George Institute for International Health – "New research shows that more than 70% of processed meats, cheeses and sauces contain unacceptably high levels of salt in Australia", and lots of other relevant research. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published A systematic survey of the sodium contents of processed foods, from the George Institute, by Jacqueline L Webster, Elizabeth K Dunford and Bruce C Neal, in 2010.

Salt Matters is a site maintained by the Menzies Research Institute of the University of Tasmania. It makes interesting reading. It points out that human breast milk contains only 14mg/100g sodium, that salt "causes or aggravates over 20 salt-related health problems" and "at least 6 million Australians (half the adult population) have salt related health problems." It recomends choosing foods with sodium levels no more that 120mg/100g. (You will find few processed foods with sodium levels as low as that.)

Wikipedia has an article on salt and its health effects, discusses recommended intake of salt, and has a long list of links on the health effects of dietary salt.






Index of links within this page

A taste for salt
Canned foods
Dietary salt and soil
Ethics of adding salt to food
In other countries
Introduction
Legend: colour coding
Links
Miscellaneous foods
Multilateral action
Research
Salt and sodium
Sodic soil
Sodium levels in products
Top
Who is responsible?
Home
Top
Home
Top