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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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How U.K. Fared With Salt Restrictions

January 12, 2010 - 11:18 AM | by: Amy Kellogg

The U.K. began its salt reduction program in 2004, spearheaded and overseen by the Food Standards Agency.  The agency estimates that, as a result of the program, the average daily salt consumption is down from .33 ounces of salt per person per day, to .30 per day.  It might not sound like much, but the Food Standards people estimate that 6000 unnecessary deaths are being prevented each year because Brits are eating less salt.

Alette Addison, Head of the Salt Reduction Branch at the Food Standards Agency in London said they originally faced a bit of resistance. But though some people grumble about the “Nanny State”, most people find there is not much of an argument about reducing salt intake.  “As we move forward it’s far, far more positive maybe than when we started.  And that’s a message I would give to New York City, you know, it’s great to see you start…you can do something…you can reduce intakes…but it will take work.”

The UK’s salt reduction is voluntary, with manufacturers cutting the salt they put into things like bread, potato chips and cereal.   The Food Standards Agency says 75% of our salt intake is actually from pre-packaged foods, not from our liberal use of the table top salt shaker!  Bread makes up 20% of British salt consumption. It’s not that bread is that salty of course—but it does contain salt—and it is something we tend to consume a lot of.  Here in the UK, the salt content of sliced bread is down 35% thanks to the program.  In cereals it is down 43%.

I asked if people complain about food tasting bland, with less salt in it.

Addison said by taking away a bit of salt, you get something else!

“In fact, people have also seen that the other flavors start to come out.   If you eat a pizza that’s got less salt in it you may taste more herbs and more tomato…so you just get the other flavors coming through instead.”

Addison said palettes adjust quickly.  She said despite the fact that great strides have been made, ultimate targets have not yet been met.  The Food Standards Agency would like to see daily consumption of salt down to .21 ounces a day, which is about a teaspoon. (average consumption is currently .31 per person per day).  And Addison claims, you only need .14 ounces per day to get what you need out of salt.

The British Food Standards Agency is really interested in seeing New York get its salt reduction program up and running.  Because what happens in the United States impacts upon Great Britain.  After all, the UK imports a lot of pre-packaged food from America.  So it can cut back all it likes, but if some of its food suppliers around the world are paying little heed to salt content, it won’t make the progress it wants to.

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