World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), based at Queen Mary University of London, surveyed 2,000 white, whole meal, mixed grain and flat breads from 32 countries and regions.
The researchers found that 34% of breads in the survey continued more salt than the UK’s maximum salt target for bread, which stands at 1.13g per 100g.
Flat breads and whole meal breads were more salty than other bread types, with an average salt content of 1.08g per 100g. Some flat breads were found to contain more than 1.50g of salt per portion, a third of the maximum daily intake of salt as recommended by the World Health Organization, WASH noted. This represents the amount of salt contained in four bags of ready salted crisps, the health campaign group stressed.
In total, 44% of white breads included in the global survey had more salt than the UK’s maximum salt target. Mixed grain breads had the lowest average salt content of 1.02g/100g.
Salt reduction slowing in UK?
WASH claimed the results suggest that voluntary salt reduction efforts could be “slowing” in the UK.
Progress to date
Public Health England issued guideline salt targets for over 80 categories of food, which the food industry are encouraged to follow on a voluntary basis.
The UK’s voluntary salt reduction programme has seen food manufacturers gradually cut salt levels in processed foods. Between 2001 and 2011, UK salt intake dropped by 15%, according to WASH data.
The average amount of salt continued in whole meal breads produced in Qatar, China, Costa Rica and South Africa were all below UK levels. The campaigners noted that mandatory reduction targets, such as those put in place by South Africa, may be more effective than voluntary goals.
In the UK, bread is the single biggest contributor of salt to people’s diets, providing nearly a fifth of salt intake from processed foods, WASH stressed. Reducing the amount of salt in bread is therefore an effective way to cut overall consumption of salt at a population level.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiology at Queen Mary, University of London, and WASH chairman, called for governments to take firmer action.
“Eating too much salt puts up our blood pressure, the major cause of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Reducing salt intake around the world would save millions of lives each year and all countries should be working towards reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025.
“Our survey has shown that many bread manufacturers internationally are still adding huge and unnecessary amounts of salt to their products. Governments must act now and reinvigorate salt reduction work in the food industry.”