China ranks top followed by the United States in the consumption of high salt content in processed meat and fish products. This was revealed by a five country study published in the online journal BMJ Open.
Among the five countries, UK come the last. Australia and South Africa are the other two nations that came under the study. .
In the study, the researchers found that China had the highest salt level of 1050 mg/100 g for all products. It had the highest ranking with respect to both meat (1066 mg/100 g) and fish products (942 mg/100 g). The salt content of roast chicken in China was 4.5 times that of the same product in the UK (893 mg/100 g vs 197 mg/100 g); chilled fish in China was 4.5 times saltier than that of the USA (1744 mg/100 g vs 389 mg/100 g).
With respect to salt content of pâté and meat spreads, China had four times that of Australia (1916 mg/100 g vs 480 mg/100 g). Yet the salt content of bacon, frozen meat, salami and cured meats, dried meat and frozen fish in China was the lowest of all the five countries.
A substantial proportion of processed meat and fish products fell into the red and amber traffic light categories, with the highest proportion of green light products found in the UK, accounting for just over 12.5% of all meat and fish products.
However, the authors said that the overall sodium content of meat and fish products in each country was high, with only ten percent of the products in the UK and USA, and no more than five per cent in China and South Africa, falling into the green light category.
In this case, if one eats 100 g meat and fish products daily, average sodium intake would account for just over 47 per cent of the WHO recommended daily maximum in China and the USA, 37 per cent in South Africa, 35 per cent in Australia and 27 percent in the UK.
High dietary salt intake is a major cause of high blood pressure and the associated risks of cardiovascular and kidney diseases and death. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum salt intake of 2000 mg/day. But the average global salt intake in 2010 was around twice that.
The WHO has set a target of a 30% global reduction in salt intake by 2025, and to gauge progress against this, focused on the salt content of processed meat and fish products in three developed and two developing countries: the UK; USA; Australia; China; and South Africa.
In the study, the researchers maintained the 2017 UK salt reduction targets to assess the percentage of products reaching the levels across the five countries. The five countries in the study had their own strategies to reduce dietary salt intake and are part of The International Network for Food and Obesity/noncommunicable diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS), which aims to collate and track the nutritional content of processed foods worldwide.
Products for the study were sourced from major supermarket chains in the five countries, and the food nutrition labels scanned to assess the salt (sodium) content (mg/100 g).
Processed meat products were classified as: meat alternatives; bacon; canned meat; frozen meat; meat burgers; salami and cured meats; sausages and hot dogs; sliced meat; dried meat; pate and meat spreads; kebabs; ‘other’ meat products; raw flavoured meats; whole hams and similar products; roast chicken; and raw unflavoured meats. Processed fish products were categorised as: canned; chilled; frozen; and ‘other’.
A total of 33,955 processed meat and fish product labels were scanned, of which 7455 (22%) were excluded because of missing or duplicate information, leaving 26,500 (78%) products for analysis. The total number ranged from 885 for the UK to 17,098 for the USA. The data collection spanned several years, from 2012 to 2018, during which time product reformulation may have occurred, the researchers said.