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Bacon – the salt mine on your breakfast table

Survey results published today by Action on Salt (based at Queen Mary University of London) have confirmed bacon’s unwelcome status as the second biggest contributor to salt in the UK diet.

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Research on the salt content of bacon and implications by Queen Mary University of London
Research on the salt content of bacon and implications by Queen Mary University of London

Action on Salt’s experts are urging the newly formed government to launch a comprehensive salt reduction programme, with mandatory targets for salt levels in products that all companies would be expected to meet and strict penalties or levies for those who fail to comply.

Salt is the leading cause of raised blood pressure - which in turn is the major cause of strokes and heart disease. 

However, of the 171 bacon products collected from ten main UK supermarket chains by Action on Salt’s researchers, 86% have a salt concentration equal to or greater than seawater.

Study reveals wide variety

The saltiest bacon offender was Tesco Finest’s Unsmoked 8 Wiltshire Cure Back Bacon Medallions. It had with a staggering 5.3g/100g - more than twice the concentration of salt in seawater, and the equivalent salt content of one Burger King Hamburger in just one rasher.

The survey importantly shows it is possible to produce bacon with far less salt. The least salty bacon overall was The Co-operative’s 8 Reduced Fat Unsmoked Bacon Medallions w

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chair of Action on Salt, adds: "While Boris Johnson has pledged to spend millions of pounds on building new hospitals – many of which will treat the many thousands of people suffering or dying from strokes and heart disease, the Prime Minister must be reminded that just one-gram reduction in population salt intake prevents more than 4,000 premature deaths per year in the UK and costs next to nothing to implement.” ith just 1.45g of salt per 100g – just a quarter of the salt found in the saltiest bacon.

Labelling

All products – apart from the Co-operative bacon mentioned above - should carry a red traffic light label for salt on the front of pack, the campaigners say.

Three in four (74%) of the bacon products surveyed had colour coded labelling on front of pack, which is a significant improvement from Action on Salt’s 2012 bacon survey, where only half (51%) provided some form of labelling on front of pack.

Tesco and Iceland are the only two supermarkets who have opted for no front of pack label on any of their bacon products, putting their customers at a disadvantage as it is the only way to knowingly make a healthier choice.

Astonishingly, some products promoted as being ‘reduced salt’ have more salt than those which did not display a specific nutrition claim to reduced salt.

The picture is confused further by inconsistent approaches to nutrition information – some companies provide nutritional information for raw bacon, while others give the nutrition levels of cooked bacon. This risks misleading consumers and makes it difficult to compare products as salt levels increase when the bacon is cooked.

Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt says: “Given the fact that bacon is the biggest contributor to salt after bread in the UK diet, and that we are still far exceeding our daily salt targets, it’s shocking to learn that food manufacturers are still ignoring the voluntary salt reduction targets and putting profits before the health of the nation.  We have seen great success with the soft drinks industry levy and the government must now consider doing the same for key contributors of salt in UK diet, such as bacon. This way, everyone’s health benefits, including that of the socially deprived.”

Zoe Davies, Nutritionist at Action on Salt explains: “Whilst it’s great to see a higher uptake of colour coded nutrition labelling, some retailers have completely avoided it or even removed it, and the out of home sector doesn’t use it at all, putting their customers at a disadvantage when looking for healthier alternatives. Government should seize the opportunity of Brexit, and set mandatory colour coded front of pack labelling immediately, to make it easier for customers to choose healthier options.”

 “For many years, food manufacturers have been allowed to put profits before the health of our nation and we now urgently need Boris Johnson’s no nonsense approach to get things done with an 'oven ready’ mandatory salt reduction programme for all products for 2020. This will save thousands of people suffering and dying unnecessarily, and at the same time provide huge cost savings to the NHS."

More information:

For media information, contact:

Chris Mahony
Faculty Communications Manager (Medicine and Dentistry)
email: c.mahony@qmul.ac.uk