It’s no secret we’re all eating too much salt, but you might be surprised by just how much is hidden in unlikely foods. Sweet biscuits are in the firing line in this guest post from Consensus Action on Salt and Health.
We’ve just surveyed the amount of salt in sweet biscuits here at Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). We found that having sweet biscuits with your afternoon cup of tea, or popping a couple in your child’s packed lunch, could add more salt to your diet than you think.
Nearly a quarter of the sweet biscuits we analysed (479 biscuits) were shown to be as salty, or saltier than, Butterkist Salted Popcorn (0.9g per 100g)!
Asda’s fun size mini milk chocolate digestives came out worst, with 0.4g of salt per 25g bag. McVitie’s mini gingerbread men also didn’t fair too well, with 0.3g of salt for every 25g pack.
Hidden salt in our food
But is this really such a worry? When discussing biscuits, naturally the first thought that comes to mind is the unacceptably high levels of sugar in them, and we don’t dispute that. In fact, over 90% of the biscuits we surveyed are high in sugar. This puts us and our children at increased risk of developing a number of health issues, namely dental caries, obesity and diabetes.
However, the hidden salt is causing just as much damage, by increasing our risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.
Figures from the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2011) show that more than half of us regularly reach for the biscuit tin, and children are eating more, with 80% of under-10s consuming them on a regular basis.
Our dietary habits in childhood certainly influence our eating patterns in later life, so if we are to tackle the issue, it’s important we ensure our children do not develop a preference for salt in the first place. This can only be achieved if we provide them with a low-salt diet.
Improve salt labelling
‘So,’ I hear you say, ‘We’ll remove the salt cellar from our homes, mission accomplished!’. Unfortunately most of the salt we eat (75%) is hidden in the foods we buy. And I’m not just talking about foods that taste salty; it’s in the most surprising places such as bread, breakfast cereals, soups, sandwiches, and biscuits.
A simple way to overcome this would be to have clear and simple nutrition labelling, making it easy for us to find out what we’re eating and compare products. However, over-complicated food labels, with some products giving figures for sodium instead of salt, makes it almost impossible for us to understand. This is why clear food labelling, which is something Which? has also been calling for, is so important.
The food industry has a responsibility to tell us what they’re putting in our food so that we know what we’re eating. With the new hybrid traffic light labelling being rolled out this summer, this will hopefully help consumers do just that.
CASH tips for cutting down on salt
Like adults, children consume more salt than the maximum recommendation. Therefore, simple changes can be made to our diet to make sure we don’t consume too much salt. Here are a few tips from us here at CASH:
- Biscuits should be a treat and not an everyday occurrence. If you like to snack, opt for healthier alternatives eg fruit, nuts and plain popcorn. But if you can’t resist them, choose smaller, more traditional biscuits eg custard creams and chocolate bourbons, and ensure you eat fewer of them
- Compare nutrition labels and choose lower salt options
- Try making your own biscuits instead, that way you know exactly what’s in them. Avoid using baking powder or self-raising flour, and use unsalted butter instead, or even better a mono or polyunsaturated fat eg corn oil or rapeseed oil.
Are you surprised by the results of CASH’s sweet biscuit survey? Do you make a concerted effort to cut down on your salt intake?
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is by Sonia Pombo, nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt and Health. All opinions expressed here are Sonia’s own, not necessarily those of Which?