Who would benefit from eating more salt?
Too much salt in ready meals
Georg Ehring: If you buy your lunch ready-made and heat it up in the microwave, you usually don't want to worry too much about your diet. The meal should be available quickly and taste good. Many manufacturers provide an extra portion of salt, at least more than would be healthy. The North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center has now found that out. Angela Clausen from the consumer center, how high is the salt content in the particularly heavily salted products?
Angela Clausen: So the worst we found was actually 7.52 grams of salt in one serving.
Ehring: And how much do you need roughly per day?
Clausen: The daily requirement or the daily amount of six grams per day should not be exceeded.
Ehring: Does that mean there's more in a single serving than you could need all day? How come
Clausen: Well, in fact, salt always gives flavor. But you can also use a whole lot of salt to cover up a little less of the other seasoning ingredients that are a little more expensive. All in all, of course, we are all used to a rather intense salty taste and that is also one of the problems with the ready-made meal manufacturers. Actually, they would all have to, in a concerted action, very slowly, little by little, lower the salt content in all products at the same time, then nobody would notice it anymore.
Ehring: But you have done similar research before. What's the trend?
Clausen: We have almost the same products - 60 products were exactly the same in our 100 that we examined - examined for the first time in 2010, now for the second time at the end of 2011; 60 identical menus. We found out that there had been a change in the nutritional values in 27, 15 of them even increased their salt content and in 12 it only decreased. This is so disappointing for us because since then we have had a lot of conversations with retailers, manufacturers and associations, and we have all said time and again that salt is definitely an issue and we are working on it.
Ehring: But they don't seem to be working on it. Do you have reasons for that?
Clausen: I honestly can't explain it to myself at the moment. Nothing has really improved, despite the fact that you said it was an important topic and of course we have had the recommendation of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment for many years, which said very clearly that we should urgently reduce the amount of salt in our dishes.
Ehring: Who is this harmful to health? Does every consumer have to pay attention to low salt content, or only certain risk groups?
Clausen: Basically, it says that nobody should actually exceed six grams per day. But for certain risk groups, for people who suffer from high blood pressure, for example, or people who are very sensitive to salt with their blood pressure, it is of course particularly important for them. However, it is also helpful for people who may have kidney problems to eat less salt. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment believes that all consumers would benefit if the salt content in finished products were reduced, especially overweight and elderly people.
Ehring: What are the health risks?
Clausen: Basically, it is the case that with correspondingly stressed people who react particularly sensitively to it, this can promote high blood pressure and that of course it also increases the risk of heart and circulatory diseases.
Ehring: The recommended amount of salt - you said it - is six grams a day. Are you still allowed to use the salt shaker at all, or is everything already included in finished products such as sausage, meat, cheese or ready-made meals?
Clausen: These ready-made meals really stand out. But of course we also have sausage products, including bread, which contain a relatively large amount of salt. Since then, our German bread has always been criticized by the EU. In Portugal there is now even a ban that certain amounts of salt may no longer be contained in bread. So bread is certainly still a sticking point. But our concern with ready-made meals is precisely because they only provide relatively few calories. They often only provide 20 percent of the daily requirement of calories, but then just 100 percent of the daily requirement of salt.
Ehring: Have you found any dishes in the ready-made meals that are less salted, and can you somehow characterize them, is it a certain flavor?
Clausen: Interestingly, no flavor at all. The plate menus tend to be for the same dish - I'll give you an example: chili con carne. We have a plate dish that tends to be a little less salty than a canned food. And overall we found a little less salt in frozen products.
Ehring: That means, whoever is supposed to eat healthily, has to pay closer attention to the table of contents, right?
Clausen: We would always recommend that you really take a close look at the nutritional information on the packaging. It is still a bit problematic at the moment because it still does not indicate the salt content, but only the sodium content. I then have to multiply that by 2.5 to get the actual salt content.
Ehring: Angela Clausen from the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer center. Thank you very much!
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