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Coinciding with Salt Awareness Week, this week the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Independent and many more reported on how high salt content in Chinese takeaway meals from restaurants and supermarkets.

The news follows analysis published by Action on Salt, who are calling for health warnings to be mandatory.

Keep this in mind as you read on: The maximum daily allowance for adults is 6g per day (about one teaspoon).

Here are some of the key points from the study…

Chinese takeaway meals

Six independent restaurants in London’s Chinatown were analysed

  • 97% of dishes contained 2g (1/3 of a teaspoon) or more of salt per dish.
  • 58% contained more than 3g (1/2 teaspoon) of salt per dish.
  • Combining side dishes on top would provide over 6g (over 1 teaspoon – the maximum daily allowance for adults) salt per day.
  • The saltiest takeaway main meal with a rice/noodle side dish contained 11.50g of salt (about 2 teaspoons) (Beef in Black Bean Sauce and Vegetable Noodles).
  • Variation was seen between the same dishes but from different restaurants. For example, sweet and sour dishes ranged from 1g to 3.4g of salt per portion.
  • On average, beef in black bean sauce dishes were the highest in salt (1.27g per 100g) and sweet and sour dishes were the least salty (0.54g per 100g).

Supermarket ready meals

141 ready meals were surveyed

  • Nearly half (43%) were high in salt (containing over 1.5g per 100g or over 1.8g salt per portion). These meals would be coded as ‘red’ under salt on the food traffic light labelling system.
  • The highest in salt was Slimming World’s Chinese Style Banquet Rice with 4.40g salt (about 2/3 teaspoon salt) per 550g pack.
  • As well as main dishes found to be high in salt, side dishes such as rice dishes, spring rolls and prawn crackers could easily tot up the salt levels. One example of Egg Fried Rice (Iceland’s Takeaway Egg Fried Rice) contained 4.1g (2/3 teaspoon) salt per 350g pack. That’s more salt than is in 11 ready salted bags of crisps!
  • Variation was apparent, with Tesco’s Egg Fried Rice containing only 0.1g salt per 250g.

For more detailed findings, see the original analysis PDF

 

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

Points to consider
As ever, we need to note any limitations of the report. While the analysis included a large number of supermarket ready meals, the restaurant analysis was only conducted on six restaurants in London Chinatown, so we cannot be confident findings will be the same elsewhere. Plus, it’s clear that salt levels will vary between restaurants and between meals.

That said, UK adults eat around 22 million takeaways each week, with Chinese being the most popular. Judging by these findings, it seems there is an urgent need to drastically cut salt levels in these meals.

Why is too much salt bad for us?
Too much salt can contribute to raised blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

In the UK, we are currently eating more salt than is recommended, averaging 8.1g per day (1.3 teaspoons of salt, about a third more than the maximum recommendation). This is largely due to the high amounts of salt hidden in the food we buy, for which this analysis of Chinese meals provides further support.

The good news is this average intake has actually reduced by 15% over the last decade, primarily due to product reformulation. Now we need to go further.

Is the government taking enough action reduce salt?

  • Public Health England have been encouraging the food industry to cut salt levels in food. However, so far there has been little action, with no progress report on whether the last set of salt targets (due to have been met by the end of 2017) have been reached, nor any plans to set new targets.
  • As part of this 19th Salt Awareness Week, Action on Salt are calling on Public Health England for immediate action – they want to focus on setting new salt targets, making front of pack labelling mandatory and would like to see warning labels on menus for dishes high in salt. More action is needed from the food industry and the out of home sector to reduce the amount of salt added, and to provide us with healthier choices lower in salt.
  • This week, Action on Salt are hosting a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons to discuss the future of salt reduction in the UK, with attendees from the Department of Health, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the food industry.

Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt stated: “Our data shows that food can be easily reformulated with lower levels of salt, so why haven’t all companies acted responsibly? The lack of front-of-pack colour coded labelling on branded products makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to make healthier choices and that is simply unacceptable.”

What can we do to keep our salt intakes low?

Food industry, including all food service providers

All responsible food providers should by now be carrying out at least a six-monthly nutrition and health check on their products and/or recipes, which includes the traffic light coding in order to highlight which ones need to be placed into a programme for reformulation.

At Nutrilicious, we have enjoyed helping numerous food service providers and manufacturers with this ongoing check along with nutrition and advice for ongoing product reformulation and development. If your company or organisation products or recipes need a nutrition and health check we would be delighted to help.

Taking personal responsibility

We should all be keeping salt to a minimum in our diets. For tips and advice on how to do this see:

Clearly, reducing intake of pre-packaged foods and takeaways is important for reducing salt intake, as shown in this analysis.

In the case for ready-made foods, being aware of what the labels mean can help with making wiser choices. For salt, a product is considered high in salt if it contains more than 1.8g salt per portion or if it is over 1.5g salt per 100g of the product.

Takeaway messages
This analysis highlights that salt levels can be extremely high in Chinese takeaway meals and supermarket ready meals. The relevance of reducing salt intake is paramount; each 1g reduction in daily salt intake prevents 7,000 deaths, 4,000 of which are premature, from strokes and heart disease.

We are pleased to see Action on Salt calling on Public Health England to take more action in this issue. Key messages for healthy eating apply to us all: eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and less processed foods and takeaways. This can help lower not only salt, but also sugar, fats and saturated fats; all of which in too high amounts can have negative health effects.

Following this advice – alongside other healthy lifestyle decisions such as keeping physically active – can help keep us in good health and reduce the chances of developing negative health effects such as obesity, heart disease and cancer.

 

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