Salt reduction campaign could benefit from a sprinkling of advice on herbs
ANATIONAL public health campaign called Drop the Salt held an event in Sydney recently to further highlight concern about salt content of our food.
Many Australian food companies, research institutes, individuals, and non-government organisations are behind the campaign to reduce salt intake from a current average of 9g per person daily to 6g or less within the next five years.
According to the campaign organisers this can be achieved by working with the food industry to reduce the salt content of the food supply, educating the public, enabling the easier reading of labels and forming partnerships with key health-related organisations and charities.
However, a very relevant finding from the consumer survey conducted as part of the campaign launch was that most Australians are already aware that too much salt is bad for their health, and that most of it comes from processed foods. Some even read and understand what’s on a label. However, the real issue is that despite all this, very few of these people are doing anything about it.
Along with reducing the salt content of the food supply, strategies to motivate people to actually change their behaviour is what’s really needed to make a difference in this area. One of the complexities of the whole salt reduction campaign is that it focuses on salt, while food labels don’t. They use the term
sodium’’ — the part of salt, sodium chloride, that causes all the problems such as high blood pressure, increased risk of kidney stones, stroke and heart disease.
It may, therefore, be easier to change behaviour and assist in understanding the salt content of foods if the term salt’’ was used.
Asking people to translate grams of salt into milligrams of sodium so they know how much they’re actually eating relative to the target intake is probably far too complex for anyone, and will only add to the already difficult process of changing consumer behaviour.
Another challenge is the perception that salt-reduced foods are flavourless. Smart food companies are getting around this by reducing the salt content of their products without actually telling you that they’re doing this.
Ideally, many companies will work simultaneously to reduce the salt content of the total food supply so that the differences between brands of the same product type will be minimal and harder to detect.
It would be a shame to see lower-salt foods fail due to poor consumer acceptance.
Another difficulty that may be faced with the whole campaign is the idea of dropping the salt’’. For lovers of meats with seasonings or vegetables covered in oil and salt, it can be hard to imagine you can achieve the same level of enjoyment with herbs, spices and other flavour combinations. However, smartly matching the flavour of herbs with vegetables, meat, chicken, salads and grain-based dishes rather than using salt and salty sauces and seasonings can provide flavour as well as health benefits.
Cooking with wine or adding a splash of lemon juice can work wonders with fish, while rosemary is a match for potatoes, tarragon with chicken and curry powder with eggs. After so much focus on avoiding fat and sugar, a positive spin on a negative campaign message would be a nice change — as well as advising people to drop the salt we could also suggest they pick up the herbs. Sharon Natoli is an accredited practising dietitian and director of Food & Nutrition Australia.