Salt of the Earth

Most of our readers will normally associate the acronym FSA with the Financial Services Authority, the body supervising financial-services providers in the United Kingdom. Confusingly, another UK regulator has the same acronym: the Food Standards Agency, which has nothing to do with financial services but is "an independent Government department [...] to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food."

Recently the Food Standards Agency ran a campaign to warn people about hidden levels of salt in their food, especially pre-prepared foods. New York City is running a similar health campaign. This is because high salt intake is believed to play a role in certain diseases, especially circulatory disease. Salt is also believed to have contributed to the huge changes in Japanese mortality rates in the 20th Century. The Japanese historically used salt to preserve food, but with the increased use of refrigerators their salt intake dropped, as did their rate of stroke. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major cause of stroke, and reducing salt intake is a means of reducing blood pressure for some people.

The Food Standards Agency regards a food as being high in salt where there is "more than 1.5g salt per 100g". Slightly surprisingly, the Food Standards Agency adverts specifically pick out breakfast cereals, saying that supermarkets own-branded cereals often have much lower salt levels than branded cereals. In our household our son's cereal of choice gave us the opportunity to compare the nutritional information for Kellogg's "Rice Krispies" and Sainsbury's "Rice Pops". The comparison clearly demonstrates the Agency's concern, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1. Nutritional information for Kellogg's "Rice Krispies" (left) and Sainsbury's "Rice Pops" (right)

Figure 1 shows that the branded cereal has more than twice the level of salt per 100g as the supermarket version: 1.65g v. 0.74g. Using the Agency's definition, the branded cereal is high in salt, while the supermarket cereal is medium. People in the UK eat a lot of breakfast cereals, so any salt reduction here could play an important role in the nation's health.

In light of Figure 1 we have, of course, switched our son's cereal. He didn't notice.

 

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Helena Buckmayer
Helena Buckmayer is the Marketing Director of Longevitas