Origin of salt and its use in food
Used to enhance the flavour of foods, salt has also been used since the Middle Ages for its ability to prolong food preservation and limit the proliferation of microorganisms. These properties are still employed by the food industry, which adds salt to the products it prepares to improve the taste, appearance and texture of foods, as well as to extend their shelf life.
Salt comes from two sources:
- marine: where it is obtained by evaporation of sea water;
- fossil: found in the soil in the form of deposits, it is then called "rock salt".
Functions of sodium and chloride in the body
Salt is necessary for the functioning of the body. The minerals it contains, sodium and chloride, participate for instance in the transmission of nerve signals and in muscle contraction. Insufficient salt intake is extremely rare.
Risks associated with excessive salt consumption
Excessive salt consumption is now recognised as a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, as well as for other diseases including stomach cancer.
Excessive consumption may facilitate urinary excretion of calcium and thus promote osteoporosis, a disease that causes fragile bones and that can increase susceptibility to fractures.
Reducing salt intake has been a key objective of successive National Health and Nutrition Programmes (PNNS). The PNNS 3 (2011-2015) has for example set a goal of reducing salt intake in the populationto achievean average consumption in 2015 of:
- 8 g/day for adult men;
- 6.5 g/day for adult women and children.
Levels of salt intake in the population have been estimated from two national consumption surveys (INCA 1 and INCA 2). The most recent data show that the average consumption of salt in food in France is 8.7 g/day in men and 6.7 g/d in women. For children aged 3 to 17 years, the average salt intake is 5.9g/d for boys and 5.0 g/dfor girls, with variations according to age. To these intakesfrom food as sold, must be added a further 1-2 grams of salt/day, due to the consumer adding salt to dishes and cooking water. Thus, total salt consumption is far higher than theFrenchpublic health recommendations.
Additional measures needed to reduce salt intake
The decline in salt intake by the population is due in part to reductions in the salt content of foods obtained, among others, under "charters of commitment"signed between manufacturers and the authorities. Given the limited impact on the population’s salt intake of voluntary initiatives to reduce salt content, the Agency has recommended the introduction ofadditional measures, and regulations if necessary, to increase both the number of products concerned and the level of reduction in the salt content of processed foods.
Consumers are also recommended to limit their consumption of the saltiest foods, to read food labels to guide their choices and to minimise the addition of salt when preparing and serving meals.
Foods with the highest salt content
The foods with the highest salt content are delicatessen meats (dried sausage, cured ham), broths (vegetable or meat), sauces and condiments, as well as salt cod and anchovies.
Main food vectors
As a result of French eating habits, most of the salt consumed in France comes first from bread and rusks, then from delicatessen meats, condiments and sauces, ready meal dishes, cheeses, soups, and quiches and pizzas.