Over a third of breads have too much salt, according to a new
study. Here’s what that could mean for your health.
Posted on April 21, 2018, 14:16 GMT
When you think of salty
foods, bread might not come to mind. But a new study shows
that it may be a bigger contributor to sodium in your diet
than you think.
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images / Via
Even though it doesn’t taste that salty, bread might be
delivering more sodium than you think — but it all depends on
which kind you eat and how much, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed 2,000 different breads (including white,
wholemeal, mixed grain, and flatbreads) sold in 32 countries
around the world and found some shockingly high numbers and
wide variation in the salt and sodium levels in breads. The
study was conducted by the World Action on
Salt & Health (WASH) at the Wolfson Institute of
Preventive Medicine of Queen Mary University of London.
Overall, a third of breads surveyed had more salt than UK’s
maximum recommended amount for bread.
In the US, the upper daily limit for sodium is 2300 mg, and
it’s ideal to eat no more than 1500 mg of sodium a day,
according to the American
Heart Association. That’s similar to the upper limit of
2000 mg recommended by the World Health
Organization (WHO). (One teaspoon of salt contains 2300
mg of sodium.)
In the report, some breads had over 1000 mg of sodium in a
serving size of 100g, which is about two slices, depending on
the bread type.
“We decided to look at bread because it’s an important staple
food in diets worldwide, so people are eating quite a lot of
bread on a day-to-day basis without realizing it’s one of the
biggest contributors to salt in our diet because it doesn’t
taste very salty,” said Mhairi Brown, the study coordinator
and a nutritionist at WASH.
The saltiest bread was a
rosemary focaccia from a popular brand in Canada.
The rosemary focaccia from Ace Bakery in Canada had 1060 mg
of salt per 100 g of the bread. That’s pretty salty.
In comparison, an 8-ounce bag of potato chips has 1192 mg
sodium; a large order of McDonald’s fries has 350 mg, and one
cup of salted, dry-roasted nuts has 916 mg.
In the US, some of the saltiest
breads they looked at were Grissom’s Mill Round Top White
Enriched bread, which had 658.5 mg of sodium per 100g, Old
Tyme “100% Whole Grain Bread” from Schmidt, which had 600 mg
of sodium per 100g and Pepperidge Farm’s “Hearty Sliced White
Bread,” which had 558 mg per 100g.
Flatbreads and wholemeal breads tended to be the saltiest of
all the bread categories, and mixed grain breads had the
lowest sodium content, but there was still considerable
variation within each category.
Salt is added to bread
during the manufacturing process for taste and also for
shape, texture, and preservation.
When you eat a bag of chips, you can usually taste the salt
covering the outside of the chip because it hits your taste
buds. But with bread, you can’t necessarily taste how salty
it is because a lot of that salt was added before baking, so
it’s mixed in and disguised by other things like sugar, Brown
told BuzzFeed News.
But just because the salt isn’t as easy to taste doesn’t mean
it’s not there. “Salt is added during the manufacturing
process not just for taste but also because it helps with the
structure of the bread, shape, texture, and it prolongs the
shelf life… but you don’t need as much as they’re adding,”
So the aim is to add less salt to bread so it contributes
less sodium to the diet, but not remove it entirely. That
being said, getting the food industry to do this is easier
said than done, the experts said. “Companies are reluctant to
take salt out because they worry people won’t like it or that
the bread wouldn’t have the same shape or structure,” Brown
Consuming high levels of
sodium over time can increase the risk of high blood
pressure, particularly in people who are sensitive
to the effects of sodium. High blood pressure can lead to
heart attacks and strokes.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, so we do need some of it to
survive. It helps the body maintain fluid balance and send
nerve impulses for muscle function. However, eating too much
salt can take a toll on the body.
The average American consumes 3500 mg of sodium per day, said
Jo Ann Carson, chair of the American Heart Association (AHA)
Nutrition Committee, and that’s too much. The extra sodium an
increase the volume of blood flowing through blood vessels
and raise your
High blood pressure forces the heart and blood vessels to
work harder, which can weaken them over time. Hypertension
(long-term high blood pressure) can lead to heart failure,
Carson explained. Heart failure is a chronic condition where
the heart is weak and enlarged, and struggles to pump enough
blood to the body.
The good news is that you can control the amount of sodium in
your diet and cutting back tends to be good for your blood
pressure and heart in the long-term. “Our blood pressure
increases over our lifetime so it’s important to start being
careful about salt intake earlier in life then keep it low so
it takes much longer for it to reach a dangerously high
level,” Carson said.
The study also showed
that there was a lot of variation in the salt levels between
breads, so you can choose a lower sodium option.
“We saw almost a three-fold difference in the levels of salt
between each bread within one type,” Brown said. If you’re
buying white bread, for example, you can pick the one with
less salt and it probably won’t taste that different. “It’s
always important to pick the lower sodium option, especially
if you are feeding kids because their daily recommended salt
intake is even lower,” Brown said.
So pay attention to nutrition labels on bread packages and
choose the one with a lower or the lowest amount of sodium
per serving. When choosing between types of breads, you might
have to make trade-offs. “A whole grain bread might have a
little more salt, but it’s also good to get whole grains,”
There’s no hard number, but if you know your daily limit is,
say, no more than 2200 mg, you would want a bread with less
than 200 mg of sodium per two slices. You can also look for
breads with the AHA “heart
check” on its packaging, which means there’s a reasonable
amount of sodium and the product is certified as
heart-healthy, Carson explained.
Bread is an easy place to start cutting back on your sodium
and even if the low-sodium option doesn’t taste the same at
first, you will get used to it. “Just as we have become
accustomed to higher amounts of salt in our diet, we can
adapt to lower amounts of salt. It takes about a month for
your taste buds to adapt,” Carson said. (Here are more
tips for cutting down on
Caroline Kee is a health reporter for BuzzFeed News and is
based in New York.
Contact Caroline Kee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.