A new survey claims that despite health concerns and government pressure on manufacturers, people in the UK are consuming more salt than ever. For children especially, it is not welcome news. The problem is that salt is cheap and versatile and manufacturers know that consumers crave the taste.

According to a survey by the Food Commission, a UK government watchdog, levels of salt in manufactured foods have increased over the past quarter of a century. The levels in some common foods such as bread and baked beans have remained stable, but in others it has increased dramatically. Crisps now contain on average twice as much salt as they did in 1978, says the report.

People in the UK currently eat around twice as much salt as the government recommends. But because salt is the cheapest flavoring available and also contributes to a product’s texture and shelf life it is ubiquitous and hard to avoid. Unfortunately, an excessive salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, calcium loss and osteoporosis.

The few large food companies that produce most processed foods in the UK, however, have vehemently protested the report’s findings. They claim to be committed to the government’s guidelines for reducing consumers’ salt consumption, especially amongst children. But the survey revealed that for a child under seven, eating a Burger King Kid’s Club meal is enough to take it over the two-gram maximum daily recommended intake of salt.

The report also singles out the poor quality of information regarding salt content on packaging, which displays grams of sodium rather than salt. Although salt and sodium levels are linked, consumers rarely understand exactly how. However, manufacturers are proving very reluctant to implement a clearer standard labeling scheme.

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Where salt is concerned, manufacturers and consumers are in a conundrum. Both know that, like fat, salt is bad for health but good for taste. Caught between the push of one and the pull of the other, this is an issue that is not going to go away. Public and governmental pressure to reduce salt content is likely to continue, but as long as consumers continue buying salty food, manufacturers will continue making it. 

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