High salt intake results in 1770 preventable deaths every year

In Australia, much of the salt is hidden in processed and packaged foods.

In Australia, much of the salt is hidden in processed and packaged foods. Photo: Getty

Australians are being encouraged to cut back on foods high in salt like sausages, bread and ready-to-go meals to prevent an estimated 1770 deaths per year, according to a new study.

The study also shows that reducing salt in packaged foods in Australia could prevent 7000 annual diagnoses of heart disease, kidney disease and stomach cancer.

“In Australia, a lot of the salt is hidden in processed and packaged foods,” the study’s co-lead author and senior research fellow in food policy at The George Institute for Global Health, Dr Kathy Trieu, told The New Daily.

“Things like processed meats – ham, bacon, deli meats, sausages – as well as bread and bakery products, ready meals and cheese. These are the top contributors.”

Dr Trieu said Australians consume more than the recommended amount of salt daily with packaged foods contributing to poor health outcomes.

“We know packaged foods are commonly consumed in most high-income countries with Western diets. We see this in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.

“While we are comparable to high-income Western countries, like the United States, it is still too much sodium. It’s double the recommended amount of sodium.”

salt deaths

Australians consume more than the recommended daily amount of salt. Photo: Getty

Researchers said packaged foods should be healthier and contain less salt so that it’s easier for the general public to enjoy a healthy diet.

The World Health Organisation states food companies reducing salt in packaged foods is a “best buy” to prevent diseases.

It recommends reducing the population-wide average salt intake by 30 per cent by 2025, which limits the total daily intake per person to about 2g.

Government nudges food companies

The Australian government’s Partnership Reformulation Program is a voluntary program to encourage food companies to reduce sugar, sodium and saturated fat in processed and manufactured foods and drinks.

Australia’s current plan reduces average sodium intake by 107mg per day, which may each year prevent:

  • 500 deaths
  • 1900 new cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and stomach cancer cases, and
  • 7355 disability-adjusted life years.

Dr Trieu says the plan needs to go further and wants to see Australia extend the plan to include all packaged food categories in the WHO benchmarks.

“To reduce salt intake at a population level, we want to see governments setting strict targets, in line with the World Health Organisation,” Dr Trieu said.

In 2021, the WHO released guidance for salt levels in food categories that are the biggest offenders, such as processed meats, bread and sauces.

Many countries have implemented reformulation programs for processed foods, but they may need to be better monitored and include fewer food categories than recommended by the WHO.

“What’s really key and what we found in our study is that adopting the World Health Organisation’s strict sodium targets for packaged foods can save substantially more lives than the current government’s sodium targets for foods,” Dr Trieu said.

“So government needs to do more and improve its sodium reformulation program.”

Dr Trieu recommended the following resources for people concerned about their salt intake:

Salt and heart health | The Heart Foundation

Shake the habit: Ten tips to reduce salt in your diet

Tips to reduce your salt intake | Who Salt Reduction

Tips to reduce your salt intake

  1. Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit that are naturally low in salt
  2. Cut back on salty packaged or processed foods such as potato chips and other salty snack foods, packet soups and sauces, pies, sausage rolls, sausages, pizzas, and ready-made meals
  3. Check food labels or use the FoodSwitch app to choose lower salt foods. On food labels, look for foods with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g. The best choices are foods with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g
  4. Buy reduced-salt breads and breakfast cereals, or check the food label to find the lower salt option
  5. Cut back on processed meats such as bacon, ham, chorizo and salami
  6. When cooking, limit salty sauces and condiments such as stock, soy and fish sauce, and table salt. Choose lower salt/sodium varieties if available
  7. Use herbs, garlic and pepper as seasonings as they are naturally low in salt
  8. Take the salt shaker off the table
  9. Eat takeaway meals and foods only occasionally
  10. Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines. For more information, see
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