Advice not to be taken with a grain of salt

safefood embarks on new campaign to reduce salt intake

25 May, 2005. safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board launched a campaign today, Wednesday 25th May 2005, outlining the need to reduce salt intake. Research has revealed that people generally consume over double their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of salt1. High dietary salt intake is associated with high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart disease and stroke.

Salt in recommended amounts is essential to health, helping to maintain water balance, healthy blood pressure and healthy muscles and nerves. safefood research reveals that only 4% of people on the island of Ireland know what an acceptable intake of salt is ie: 6gs.2 As food intake surveys show that people consume double this amount, reducing levels of salt consumption is necessary.  Processed foods account for approximately 65-70% of a person’s salt intake, with a further 15-20% added at cooking or at the table, and 15% occurring naturally in foods. safefood recommends that people pay more attention to food labels, checking the salt levels, that they eat more fresh food and cut down on added salt at the table and when cooking, as a starting point to help reduce salt levels.

“We hope this campaign will encourage people to be more conscious of what they eat and the levels of salt in their food,” commented Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Chief Specialist, Public Health, safefood. “The safefoodresearch shows us that people aren’t conscious of the levels of salt in their diet. Salt in processed foods is the biggest culprit; however adding salt at the table is also a problem. Consumers need to be aware of the risks of too much salt in their diet and the steps they can take to reduce this level to protect their health.”

safefood’s market research uncovered the behaviours and attitudes of Irish people towards salt. Ninety one percent of people on the island of Ireland are aware that salt is bad for their health, with 49% associating it with high blood pressure. However, one third of the Irish population do not know what their RDA of salt is. Furthermore, of the people who season their food when cooking, nearly 50% do so without tasting it. Indeed, nearly one third of people surveyed do not check the salt level of their food. 3

“If salt intake was reduced by half a teaspoon (3 grams) per day, approximately 1400 deaths could be prevented each year from stroke and heart disease on the island of Ireland” commented Dr Vincent Maher, Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation. “For a healthy heart, we would encourage you to eat more fresh food, fewer processed meals and salted snacks and to use alternative seasoning such as pepper, lemon or spices instead of salt.  If you are concerned about your blood pressure levels, or even want to know what it is, then you should contact your doctor.” 4

Younger children are particularly at risk from excessive salt levels in their diet and should eat less than adults. Salt should not be added to toddlers’ food.

Reading food labels can inform the consumer about the level of salt in a product and allow them to compare products to make the lower salt choice. By multiplying the sodium content on the food label by 2.5, the consumer can calculate the amount of salt in the food. Foods high in salt contain more than 0.5g of sodium or 1.3g of salt. These include cured and processed meat products, soups and sauces and savoury snacks. 

A leaflet How much salt is good for you, developed by safefood in association with the Irish Heart Foundation, provides a clear outline of how to manage salt intake. Simple steps which can help maintain healthy salt levels include using alternative flavourings such as black pepper, herbs, garlic and lemon juice, making home-cooked meals and reducing the amount of salt you use at home. Copies of the leaflet are available by contacting safefood at 1850 404 567, or on the safefood website, A Salt Calculator can also be found on the site which helps consumers work out how much salt is in specified amounts of food.

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For further information please contact

Andrew Hyland / Sharon Murphy OR   
Tel: 01 6690030       
087 9088 322 (Andrew)
25th May 2005

Fiona Gilligan
Tel: 01 4480600

Editors Notes

  1. The Recommended Daily Allowance RDA for adults is 4g per day. Food intake surveys have shown that the average intake of adults is 10g.
  2. 6g is the amount recommended by the FSAI as an achievable target for the adult Irish population, in a recent report ‘Salt and Health: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Public Policy in Ireland’
  3. Figures are taken from safetrak 4, market research conducted by Amarach on behalf of safefood in January 2005.
  4. A meta-analysis of longer-term salt reduction trials1 estimated that a decrease of 3g dietary salt /d would result in a reduction in stroke and ischaemic heart disease deaths of 12 and 9% respectively. When these figures were applied to the 2003 population statistics from the Central Statistics Office (ROI) and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency it was calculated that approximately 900 deaths in ROI and 500 deaths in NI could be prevented each year. 1Graham & MacGregor, 2003; Hypertension 42; 1093-1099.