Who’s salty now?

Do the British have a fondness for salt significantly different to other nations? It would appear so. According to a global SALTS (sodium alternatives and long-term solution) survey released by the Ajinomoto Group, a company dedicated to contributing to solving global nutrition issues, the overwhelming majority of Brits won’t act to change their diets.

This despite a high degree of awareness of the health implications of high-salt consumption.

The survey found that despite the fact over half (55%) of Brits acknowledge eating too much salt is bad for their health, only 1 in 3 (32%) actually control how much they consume and only 1 in 4 (26%) actively look for food marked low in salt. Though 27% admit they consume over the recommended amount of sodium, just 1 in 4 (27%) of those are interested in information on how to reduce their salt intake – far lower than the global average of 40%.

The problem is salt can make food taste better. Yes, we are advised to limit our salt intake, but it is difficult to overcome those salty cravings. I’m in the camp of I like what salt brings, however I know too much is bad for me. There are plenty of others like me. Salt, it appears, affects us more than others. Why?

Professor Matthew Bailey and his team at the University of Edinburgh went some way to understand why salt is popular, and how our appetite for salt is controlled. 

The team discovered that certain neurons in the brain are able to control both our urge to eat salt and how our blood pressure changes in response. They identified a particular gene that can limit the effect of hormones which can drive this urge. I can see that. So, I’m not surprised with the following finding. The survey further reveals that salt intake is not a consideration for most Brits, with UK consumers ranking salt consumption 8th out of 10 in importance of dietary requirements, despite the significant health implications of a high sodium diet. Other factors are a priority in our diets – as the survey points out. Brits are more likely to prioritise the amount of fruit and vegetables they consume (46% & 52%) and sugar levels (50%).

When it comes to choosing foods, taste is the top factor for 84% of UK consumers, followed by cost (59%) and health or nutritional value (53%), which is also significantly lower than the global average of 67%. Additionally, the study found that just 31% of Brits prioritise environmental impact or local production as a key consideration in their food choices.

How we get to a point where sodium reduction is acceptable will be a while yet on these shores.

It will require cooperation across “food and beverage companies, national governments, and health professionals, with the ultimate goal to encourage diets that are nutritious, taste great and meet sodium targets.,” says Tia Rains, PhD, VP customer engagement & strategic development at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America.

I hope that understanding how hormones control our appetite for salt and how the kidneys react could help us to find ways to stop our salt cravings.

Improving our understanding could help us find ways to help people reduce their salt intake and overcome our love of all things salty

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