Some ready meals on the supermarket shelves contain as much as 80% of the daily recommended salt intake of 6g. A quarter of canned soups, often marketed as a healthy option, include over 2.5g of salt per serving. With 75% of the population's salt consumption coming from processed food, it's no wonder that we are all consuming an alarming 9.5g of salt a day on average.
Last November saw an appeal to the food industry from Health Minister Melanie Johnson for a significant reduction of 30-40% in the salt content of processed food. Likewise the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been working to increase the nation's awareness of the dangers of high salt consumption with an aim of reducing the average daily intake to 6g by 2010.
Although the food industry has been making strides to achieve these aims, both the Department of Health and the FSA feel improvements so far have been woefully inadequate.
Food chiefs including Kevin Hawkins, director general of the British Retail Consortium, and Sylvia Jay, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, claim the food industry has been working for the past two years to reduce salt in processed food. Heinz has already reduced the amount of salt in its well-known cream of tomato soup by 20%, as well as by 15% in its canned baked beans. Judging by the amount of media attention this has generated other brands would do well to follow its lead.
Some manufacturers have expressed concerns over how consumers will react to lower salt levels in their favourite products. Interestingly, however, a recent blind taste test carried out in the Good Housekeeping Institute found none of the saltiest products were the most popular. In fact, when we compared a home-made potato and leek soup with no added salt with the same soup seasoned with either Lo-salt, sea salt, rock salt and table salt, the soup with no salt was the favourite.
It's vital consumers become more aware of the dangers of high salt consumption. The government's White Paper on Health, due this month, will undoubtedly focus on salt intake, guaranteeing the issue yet more publicity. The food industry should be ready to respond.
Joanne Finney is a food writer at Good Housekeeping Magazine, http://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk