Helping Aussies say ‘no’ to excess salt

Nutrition experts at IPAN are working on ways to reduce salt consumption and improve population health. Take a look at their current research findings for Salt Awareness Week.

Eating too much salt is a serious risk to health. It’s linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and cancer – which are among the most common causes of death and disease in Australia.

Salt in our diet comes from processed foods, salt added during cooking or at table, and to a lesser extent, naturally salt-containing foods.

As part of a World Health Organization understanding, Australia has agreed to reduce its intake of salt by 30 per cent by 2025.

IPAN researchers Dr Kristy Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition Sciences, and Dr Carley Grimes, Senior Lecturer in Population Nutrition, are working with the Victorian Government to evaluate a state-wide initiative to reduce Victorians’ salt intake over four years.

Their recent research found that Victorians consume an average of 8.9 grams of salt a day, well over the recommended amount of 5 grams or less a day.

When they delved into the source of all the excess salt, they found multiple culprits.

Dr Bolton said their examination of food sources contributing to salt consumption had provided a catalyst for a multi-faceted approach to salt reduction.

“At the production level, our findings call for the reformulation of products to reduce salt content. But we must also look at changing behaviour – ways of reducing consumption of discretionary and ultra-processed products and encouraging higher consumption of healthier, fresh, minimally processed foods,” she said.

“We need salt reduction action to happen in supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and takeaway settings.”

As part of their work on the salt reduction initiative, Drs Grimes and Bolton also led an evaluation of Victorian adults’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours relating to salt following the first half (22 months) of a consumer awareness campaign targeting parents.

The consumer awareness campaign consisted of advertisements across a range of formats with messages such as ‘Don’t Trust Your Taste Buds’, ‘Unpack the Salt’ and ‘Unpack Your Lunch’.

While the researchers found limited changes in knowledge, behaviours and attitudes, parents reported positive changes regarding their children after 22 months which aligned with the messages of the campaign.

“A greater proportion of parents believed limiting salt in their child’s diet was important and a lower proportion reported their children’s discretionary use of salt,” Dr Bolton said.

She said the findings highlighted that salt reduction consumer awareness campaigns may need to be intensified in order to reach the salt reduction targets.

Examining links between salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, and measures of overweight/obesity

Dr Carley Grimes recently led a review exploring whether a high salt intake is related to indicators of overweight and obesity.

Her analysis in cross sectional studies found a positive association between salt intake and overweight/obesity measures in adults and children, even after adjusting for energy intake.

High-salt diets have previously been linked to consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Dr Grimes also found that children with high salt diets were more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages.

Dr Grimes said more research was needed to further clarify the relationships and between high salt intake and sugar-sweetened beverages, and their impact on overweight/obesity indicators.

Does a person’s perception of salt impact on their dietary intake?

What if it were possible to assess a person’s taste for salt as a quick and simple way to identify people with a high salt intake?

Dr Sze Yen Tan, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition Sciences, recently led a systematic review posing this question.

In an examination of 20 studies, Dr Tan looked at adults’ sensitivity to salt taste, perceptions of food saltiness, and salt taste hedonic ratings (a person’s liking and preference for salty flavours).

He found that how sensitive a person is to salt taste – the ability to detect and recognise salt at very low levels – does not predict salt intake.

Neither was perceived saltiness. Dr Tan said this could be because not all high-salt foods taste ‘salty’, such as breads and cereals; and also saltiness is only pleasant up to a certain level.

However, he found that a person’s liking and preference for salty tastes is a better predictor for a high-salt diet.

“Salt taste, if perceived as pleasant and liked, will drive the selection and intake of salty foods,” Dr Tan explained.  

“A simple tool that assesses salt taste liking and preference may be useful to identify people who consume high levels of salt in a clinical setting, which could help inform strategies to help those people reduce their salt intake.”


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