Last updated on 2 September 2003
Your questions answered
There is concern that regularly having high levels of salt in the diet may lead to higher than average blood pressure, which may lead to an increased risk of suffering heart disease or a stroke later in life. Therefore the Food Standards Agency needs up-to-date and reliable information on the amount of salt in food to identify which products contribute most to the salt in our diets.
Sausages are eaten regularly in 88% of households in the UK, so it is important to check how much salt (and fat) they are contributing to our diets.
This survey of sausages is part of the Agency’s ongoing programme of mini-surveys on the levels of salt, fat and sugar in a range of processed foods.
The Agency will use the results of these surveys to raise awareness of which foods contribute the most salt, fat and sugar to our diets and, where possible, to inform ongoing negotiations with food manufacturers, the supermarkets and other retailers. These negotiations aim to improve the composition of processed foods to enable people to choose a healthy balanced diet.
A number of broad categories of sausages were chosen to represent the current market. Products that had been analysed before were included to allow comparisons to be made. Some products aimed specifically at children were also analysed because there are now recommendations for children’s salt intake.
The samples used in this survey represent a snapshot of the sausages market and the conclusions only give an indication of the current situation. The absence of a particular brand just means that it isn’t included in the survey – no further meaning should be read into this.
If you want to make a healthy choice when choosing which sausages to buy, you might find it useful to check the nutrition information on the food label to find those with less sodium/salt and fat. Figures have been published to help you work out what is a little and what is a lot of fat and sodium/salt in 100g of food.
A LOT A LITTLE SALT 0.5g sodium or more per 100g 0.1g sodium or less per 100g FAT 20g fat or more per 100g 3g fat or less per 100g
Quantities between these figures mean that the product has a moderate amount of fat or sodium/salt.
Salt is made up of two components – sodium and chloride. It is the sodium in salt that can lead to health problems. There are about 2.4g of sodium in 6g of salt.
Salt in the UK diet comes from three main sources:
- about 75% comes from processed foods, including sausages – salt or other compounds containing sodium are added during the processing and manufacture of these foods
- about 10-15% is added during cooking or at the table
- about 10-15% is found naturally in food
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the main sources of fat in the diet are products such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, dairy foods, meat and meat products, fat spreads and chips.
Foods containing high amounts of salt and fat should only be eaten in relatively small quantities, but they don’t need to be left out of the diet altogether. What is important is eating a healthy balanced diet. This means a diet that contains:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables
- plenty of starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes
- moderate amounts of dairy foods, meat and fish
- small amounts of foods high in fat or salt
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the amount of salt in your diet. These include:
- check the labels on processed foods, such as tinned or packet soups and ready-prepared meals, to find those with less added salt
- check food labels for other forms of sodium used as flavour enhancers and preservatives, such as monosodium glutamate and sodium bicarbonate. These are found in savoury foods, soups, sauces and meat products
- cut down on salty snacks, such as crisps and nuts, and heavily salted foods such as bacon, cheese, pickles, smoked fish and many ready-prepared meals
- choose tinned vegetables and pulses that are marked 'no added salt'
- stock cubes are high in salt, so choose lower salt versions, or make your own stock. Or you could add more herbs and spices for flavour instead
- cut down on sauces, especially soy sauce, because they are usually very high in salt
- add less salt to your cooking
- get out of the habit of adding salt at the table (try to remember to taste the food first)
Try to get most of your energy from starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and cereals, which contain less than half the calories of fat (but watch how much fat you use for cooking and serving these). There are lots of other ways to reduce the amount of fat in your diet; for example:
- choose lean cuts of meat and always trim off any fat
- choose lower-fat varieties of dairy foods such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, reduced-fat cheese and lower-fat yoghurts
- cut down on foods containing a lot of saturated fat, such as meat products, crisps and cakes
- try boiling, steaming, grilling, poaching or microwaving food rather than frying or roasting
- try 'dry roasting', which is frying with no oil
Regularly having high levels of salt in the diet has been linked to higher than average blood pressure, which may lead to an increased risk of heart disease or a stroke. Switching to a diet lower in salt would be expected to result in lower blood pressure but there are other factors that can also affect blood pressure, such as body weight, alcohol consumption and physical activity. High blood pressure can also be hereditary.
A high intake of fat on a regular basis is linked to becoming overweight (which has a number of associated health problems) and developing heart disease.
On average, we have about 3.5 grams sodium per person per day, which is roughly equal to 9 grams of salt per day (about 1.5 teaspoons). This is considerably higher than the recommended level set by COMA of 2.5 grams sodium or 6 grams salt per day.
The recent NDNS Survey of British adults showed that men are currently having about 86g fat per day and women having about 61g. On average, our fat intakes are close to the recommendations.
Yes. A diet lower in salt would be expected to result in lower blood pressure; and a diet lower in fat should help prevent weight gain and/or suffering heart disease later in life.
In May 2003, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition made recommendations on the amounts of salt that babies and children should be having. Their report Salt and health advises the following maximums:
- up to 6 months – less than 1g per day
- 7-12 months – 1g per day
- 1-3 years – 2g per day
- 4-6 years – 3g per day
- 7-10 years – 5g per day
- 11 years and upwards – 6g per day
The recommendation for adults is about 6 grams per person per day (about 1 teaspoon).
There is currently no reliable estimate of the amount of salt consumed by children, but available information suggests that it is substantially higher than these targets.
Manufacturers and retailers have reported different levels of salt reduction in a range of foods. Some low-salt and reduced-salt options of standard products are now available and this increases consumer choice. There have also been some improvements in labelling of salt in processed foods.
The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, has recently made a commitment to reduce salt levels in soups and sauces.
What is the Government doing to make sure the food industry reduces the amount of salt it puts in food?
The food industry can play an important role in helping consumers improve their health by reducing the levels of salt in processed food and by providing more reduced and low salt options.
The FSA and Government health departments will continue to work with retailers and manufacturers to make this happen. There are ongoing discussions with food manufacturers and retailers about the levels of salt in manufactured foods and the opportunities for reducing them.
Action is currently underway to improve the labelling of salt and sodium on food products. The FSA has recently commissioned research and met with health professionals, consumer groups and industry groups to discuss the nutrition information that consumers look for, to see how labelling (including salt/sodium labelling) can be improved. Current Agency advice is that information on labels about sodium should also include the equivalent amount of salt.
The FSA will continue with its ongoing programme of surveys monitoring the composition of foods. The Agency will be using these surveys to track changes in the salt content of a wide range of foods. This will enable us to monitor claims made by industry on salt content of products and initiatives to lower salt in manufactured foods.
Other Government initiatives are likely to have an impact on blood pressure. These include the Department of Health’s ‘Five a Day’ programme to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables people are eating, initiatives to increase physical activity levels, and action to tackle the rising trend for people to be overweight or obese.