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Sodium content in foods jumps 9%

Date

Kate Hagan

THE sodium content of more than 28,000 processed foods has risen an average 9 per cent in the past four years, researchers have found, warning that urgent action is needed to reduce Australians' salt intake.

The senior director of Sydney University's George Institute for Global Health, Bruce Neal, said excess sodium caused high blood pressure and was therefore a key factor in heart attacks and strokes.

Professor Neal said processed foods were the main source of salt for the average Australian and the 9 per cent rise was contrary to federal government and food industry programs to reduce it.

Researchers from the institute made the finding after recording the sodium content of most packaged food products for sale in five supermarkets between 2008 and last year.

Overall the mean sodium content of foods rose 9 per cent, but varied across product categories. Sodium content was up 16 per cent in oils, 13 per cent in sauces and spreads, and 8 per cent in cereals.

Foods in which the average sodium content was reduced included dairy foods (down 11 per cent) and bread and bakery products (down 8 per cent).

Professor Neal said that if a 9 per cent rise in sodium intake was seen across the population, it would lead to a 4 per cent increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.

''Because vascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, that would translate into 2000 more deaths each year as a consequence of these foods having gotten saltier,'' he said.

The rise was particularly high in new products that came on to the market over the course of the study, Professor Neal said.

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