Agency plans to work with other food industry sectors for same healthy result

Levels of salt in one of the UK’s staple foods have dropped significantly, boosting people’s health outlook, according to a study published today by the Food Standards Agency.

The findings show that the average reduction in salt intake through bread is the equivalent of 13 ½ level teaspoons of salt per person per year.

Lowering salt intake in people’s diets is a vital step towards combating coronary heart disease – one of the UK’s biggest killers. High intakes of salt have been linked to a higher than average blood pressure, which may lead to a higher risk of heart disease or a stroke.

The Agency analysed the five most commonly consumed kinds of bread in the UK. The study shows that sodium levels in the bread have dropped by up to 21% since 1998, confirming earlier claims by UK bakers. Sodium is a chemical component of salt, and more than 95% of the sodium in bread comes from salt.

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Previous studies have shown that bread accounts for nearly a quarter of the salt in people’s diet.  About three quarters of people’s dietary salt intake comes from salt already in foods. The remaining quarter comes from salt added to food during cooking or at the table.

The Food Standards Agency, and the Department of Health, now wants to see others in the food industry follow the example set by the UK bread industry. The Agency has already looked at various food surveys, identified key sources of dietary salt and is discussing with the food industry ways of reducing salt in other processed food.

Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Sir John Krebs, said: “This change is of real importance for the health of our bread eating nation – particularly for those who have been advised to reduce their salt intake. In the UK, the people eat on average three slices of bread a day, so this is key to lowering their overall dietary intake of salt.

“Bread manufacturers have worked hard to achieve this reduction, I congratulate them on their success. Salt levels have lowered, but bread is still as popular as ever, proving that changes with important health benefits can be made without sacrificing taste.”

The survey results show the greatest salt reduction has been made in standard white sliced bread, followed by brown sliced bread. The results showed

Sample description                       Sodium        Reduction
                                        (as indicator
                                         of salt)
                                         mg/100g           %

                                        1998   2001

White bread, premium, sliced, large     587    530        10
White bread, standard, sliced, large    583    461        21
White bread, crusty bloomer, unsliced, 589    545         7
fresh, large   
holemeal bread, sliced, large           540    487        10
Brown bread, sliced, large              528    443        16

Bread, other cereals and potatoes should constitute about one third of a balanced diet.  These foods provide carbohydrate, fibre, some iron, calcium and some B vitamins. They are also low in fat.

A copy of the study and its results is available on the Food Standards Website, www.foodstandards.gv.k/fsainfsheet/2001/no19/19bread.htm