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World salt awareness week

This week (16 - 22 March) is World Salt Awareness week and this year's focus is on salt and children.

The focus this year is on salt and children - raising awareness around the importance of giving children a low-salt diet.

Research tells us that Kiwi kids are consuming up to 30% more salt than is recommended. This is obviously highly concerning and something which needs to be addressed.

Eating too much salt has a direct influence on our developing health as we grow. Salt intake has an effect on our blood pressure and is a risk factor for heart disease, New Zealand’s single biggest killer. There is also an increased risk of osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses, stomach cancer and obesity.

Children who develop a preference for lower salt foods are likely to maintain this preference as they get older, so it is important children do not develop a taste for it in the first instance.

What might surprise you is that over 75% of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods. There are a number of foods regularly eaten by children - such as bread, breakfast cereals, processed meats, cheese and takeaway meals - that can contain very high levels of hidden salt.  

Since 2007, the Heart Foundation has worked with food manufacturers to create targets for reducing sodium levels in foods which contribute the most sodium to our diet. Salt is sodium chloride and it’s the sodium that can be bad for your health. These food  categories include packaged loaf bread, breakfast cereals, processed meats (ham, bacon and sausages), savoury pies, savoury snacks, soups, cheese, cooking sauces and edible oil spreads.

While good progress is being made, New Zealand is still a long way off achieving our target of the recommended daily intake (for adults this is between 920mgs – 2300mg). More work is needed across the industry and sodium reduction needs to be a key issue on the radar of food providers.

For parents, the good news is there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the saltiness of your children’s diet;

  • Read food labels and choose lower sodium options (salt is listed as sodium on food labels). A good guide for bread and breakfast cereals is sodium less than 400mg/100g
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit, and less processed and ready-prepared foods
  • Use little or no salt in cooking and at the table. Instead, use herbs, spices, citrus fruit and vinegars for flavour

If we can make these steps a habit, we’ll be making great progress towards achieving a lower salt diet.

For more information on salt awareness, visit the Consumer website for a great article titled 'Enough of the 'in-salts'.