It found the average sodium intake for New Zealand adults was around 3500mg per day, which is equivalent to around 9g of salt per day. These levels were much higher than the recommended upper levels for sdium of 2300mg per day.
The findings were based on urine samples taken by researchers at the University of Otago from 3000 people who took part in the New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey in 2008-09.
Processed foods the culprit, not table salt
Dr Rachael McLean of the University of Otago’s Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research said it was the first time urine sodium from a nationally representative sample of New Zealanders was measured and analysed to provide intake estimates.
The survey revealed younger New Zealanders had higher sodium intakes, with men aged 19 to 44 years of age having mean intakes almost double the recommended upper level of intake for all adults.
McLean pointed out that previous research had shown that around 90% of sodium amongst New Zealanders is consumed as salt, and it is estimated that around 75% of this salt is consumed from processed foods.
“Although data from the survey showed that adding salt to food after it has been cooked was associated with a higher sodium intake, even those who reported never adding salt afterwards had a mean sodium intake exceeding the recommended upper level,” she said.
Reformulation? Regulation? What next?
McLean claimed that individual measures such as limiting the addition of table salt would not be enough to reduce intake to the recommended level and that processed foods need to be reformulated to contain less salt.
“Lowering population sodium intake to below 2300mg per day [or six grams of salt per day] for adults would have substantial benefits in reducing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke in the New Zealand population,” she said.
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council told FoodNavigator-Asia she agreed many New Zealanders consume too much salt, even without knowing it.
“However, legislation and regulation will not create a meaningful reduction in salt consumption. Change will only come when individual New Zealanders choose healthier, more balanced diets and foods where salt, like virtually everything else, is best consumed in moderation,” she said.
Rich pointed out that calls for regulation ignored the fact that the industry is quietly but steadily reducing the amount of unnecessary salt in food, and has already significantly reduced salt in food products in recent years.
Kiwi companies have been cutting salt levels
“In New Zealand, many companies have had significant success in reducing salt levels, including Goodman Fielder Quality Bakers, George Weston Foods, Nestlé, Bluebird, Sara Lee, Kellogg, Sanitarium, Bluebird, Heinz Wattie etc.,” she said.
By exampleNestlé has been reducing sodium for a number of years and many products have been reformulated, which “has resulted in a sodium decrease of up to 25% in a wide range of the products in the Maggi culinary range.”
Rich remarked that activist groups should remember that some products simply cannot be successfully made without salt, and that salt reduction programmes need to be undertaken gradually as people’s taste buds take time to adapt.
“Reducing our nation’s salt intake is not as simple as crossing salt out of every recipe and thinking the food will be unchanged,” she added.