Partygoers might think they're eating healthily when they reach for crackers and dip. But new research released shows that some dips are saltier than seawater, and several cracker-dip combinations deliver more than half a day's worth of salt in just one serve.
Released by the George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation as part of their Unpack the Salt campaign, the report analysed salt levels in 849 dips and 1285 crackers from Australia's four major food stores from 2010 to 2017.
The report revealed a 16 per cent drop in the average amount of salt in crackers since 2010 – in line with national targets for manufacturers. But it also showed a concerning 14 per cent increase in the average saltiness of dips over the same period.
Heart Foundation Victoria CEO Kellie-Ann Jolly said the fact that crackers now have less salt is good news and shows some manufacturers are making their products healthier.
"But the increase in salt levels in dips is worrying and indicates an urgent need for a national target to help cut Australia's salt intake and save thousands of lives," Ms Jolly said.
Ms Jolly said that the average Australian was still consuming close to nine grams of salt a day – almost twice the World Health Organization recommendation of five grams a day.
"Excess salt is directly linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart and kidney disease," she said. "One of the best ways to keep your blood pressure down is by eating less salt."
The George Institute's Public Health Nutritionist and the report's lead author Clare Farrand said crackers and dips may seem like a healthy choice. But after unpacking the facts, it's clear that salt levels vary greatly between products, and some contain shockingly high amounts of salt.
"Olive, seafood and aioli dips had the highest average salt content of all the dips. Meanwhile tzatziki and vegetable dips, such as hummus, guacamole, eggplant and spinach dips, had the lowest average salt contents," Ms Farrand said.
"Christmas partygoers don't get to see the labels and should remember that they will often end up eating three to five times more than the modest 10g to 20g serving size quoted on labels."
"So if you're at a party, try to fill up on fresh food such as cut-up fruit and vegetables before you reach for the dips and crackers. And if you're a diehard dip fan, tzatziki, spinach or guacamole dips are usually the safest bet."
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter urged festive party hosts to visit the Unpack the Salt website before they shop to feed their friends and family. The site was launched by VicHealth and the Heart Foundation to raise awareness about the high levels of salt in processed and packaged foods.
"Dips and crackers are a Christmas party favourite and you don't have to give them up altogether. You can try making your own – the Unpack the Salt website has great recipes – or choose lower-salt options at the supermarkets," said Ms Rechter.
Ms Rechter said food manufacturers had a huge role to play in helping keep the nation healthy and this data showed that reformulation to reduce salt levels can be done.
"While the average drop in salt in crackers is pleasing, there are still brands with very high salt levels. We need more commitment from food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt in their products."
Tips for consumers
You don't have to give up dips altogether. Try making your own (go to www.unpackthesalt.com.au for recipe ideas). Or go for tzatziki or vegetable dips and think about using carrot or other vegetable sticks instead of crackers
The best way to reduce salt is to eat more fresh foods and reduce your reliance on processed and packaged foods
Sodium is one component of salt – it is the sodium that is labelled on nutrition information panels on packaged foods
Note the serving sizes that manufacturers use when quoting different foods' salt content – they're often smaller than you think. And be aware of your own portion sizes – they're often larger than you realise
To reduce salt in your diet and for your family, it's important to know how to check the amount of sodium listed on packaged foods. Use the 'per 100g' column to compare the sodium content of different brands
Download the FoodSwitch app (find it at www.foodswitch.com.au). It allows you to scan the barcode on packaged food products to find out their sodium content and to find an alternative product with a lower sodium content
Look for dips with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g. The Heart Foundation has a sodium and salt converter that easily allows you to convert the sodium listed on packaged foods into grams of salt, or vice versa.
Visit www.unpackthesalt.com.au for more information about the campaign and for tips and resources on how to identify salt in packaged foods and reduce your salt intake
Question: What inspired the most recent study investigating the salt level in dips and crackers?
Clare Farrand: Australians are eating DOUBLE the amount of salt recommended by the World Health Organization of 5g salt per day, and it's putting our health at risk: salt raises blood pressure which puts us at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Most (75-80%) of the salt that we eat is from packaged processed foods. Therefore we need to reformulate packaged processed foods to contain less salt. This will help us to reduce population wide salt intake.
The aim of this study was to identify the amount of salt in dips and crackers sold in Australia from 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2017, and see if there have been any reductions so far, compare current salt contents against existing Australian targets and those set by The Department of Health in the United Kingdom (UK), as a benchmark. This was with the view to understanding how much salt is in these products and whether this has changed over time and informs direction for future reformulation efforts in Australia.
Question: Can you share the results of the study, with us?
Clare Farrand: The results showed that there is a shocking amount of salt hiding in some dips and crackers, and a huge difference in the amount of salt in one dip compared to another. For example, some of the saltiest dips contained more than HALF of our entire days' worth of salt in a single serving. In fact, the saltiest dip was 1.5 times saltier than sea water, and 400 times more salty than the least salty dip.
What is also concerning is that the results shows there is now MORE salt in dips since 2010 (14% increase). There is good news though; there has been a 16 per cent drop in the average amount of salt in crackers since 2010 – in line with national targets for manufacturers.
One serve of any of the three saltiest dips (2.4 g/serve) with one serve of the saltiest cracker (0.5g/serve) contained almost 3g of salt – over half the recommended daily maximum
The saltiest dip, Fresh Fodder Taramosalata, contained 4.8g salt per 100g - 1.5 times saltier than sea water, and almost 400 times saltier than the least salty dip.
The lowest salt dip, Pipel Avocado dip contained no salt, followed by The Olive Branch's tuna pate (0.05g /serve), and Fresh Fodder's Babaganoush and Yalla Tzatziki (both 0.13g/serve)
Olive based dips, on average, were the saltiest of all the dips, containing on average 2.1g of salt per 100g
The average amount of salt in dips has increased by 14% since 2010 while the average amount in crackers has decreased by 15.9%.
The lowest average salt content was found in tzatziki, spinach and guacamole dips, with 0.9g of salt per 100g
The saltiness of crackers varied from zero salt to 5.3g per 100g, with a range of unflavoured rice cakes from SunRice, Ceres Organics, Pure Harvest and Damora containing no salt. But seven different flavoured rice cakes and crackers were on the 'top ten saltiest' list
Rosemary & Sea Salt Kurrajong Kitchen Lavosh Thins Original were the saltiest crackers, with 0.5g salt per 10 g serve. The four saltiest crackers tested all contained more salt than sea water.
More information is on the Unpack the Salt website: https://unpackthesalt.com.au/
Question: What surprised you the most about these results?
Clare Farrand: The increase in the amount of salt in dips is particularly concerning – we want to see processed foods becoming less salty, not more salty if we are to improve the health of the nation.
Question: Which brands contained the lowest salt?
Clare Farrand: The results showed that there is a huge range in the amount of salt between products. On average olive, seafood, and Aioli dips have the highest salt contents, and tzatziki, spinach and guacamole dips had the lowest amount of salt.
Question: What is an adult's daily recommend consumption of salt?
Clare Farrand: The World Health Organization recommends that we eat no more than 5g salt per day. This is about a level teaspoon – however most of the salt we eat is already hidden in the food that we buy.
Question: What foods surprisingly contain high levels of salt?
Clare Farrand: Salt is hidden in the most surprising places. It's not necessarily the saltiest foods that contribute to our salt intake, but the foods we eat the most often, for example - aaccording to the most recent Australian Health Survey, the highest contributors of salt to the diet include bread and bread rolls (12.8%), processed meat (6.7%), ready to eat breakfast cereals (2-3%) and sauces, dips and condiments (6%).
Question: What do you hope to achieve from the Unpack the Salt campaign?
Clare Farrand: The unpack the salt campaign aims to highlight to consumers foods that are high in salt, and encourage them to check the label and choose the lower salt options.
Question: How do you hope to have the food industry reformulate food to contain less salt?
Clare Farrand: We aim to work with manufacturers to highlight those foods which are high in salt, and encourage them to remove salt to the lowest possible level.
Interview by Brooke Hunter