Salt

Reporter: Rebecca Bergh

Salt is in chips, crackers and greasy fast food, just like you'd expect. But most parents would be stunned to know it's also in our breakfast cereals, butter, cheese and bread -- and there's loads of it.

According to the Heart Foundation, children are eating fifty per cent more salt than they were just 10 years ago. Children aged 4 to 8 need just 1400 milligrams of salt a day; for 9 to 13 year olds its 2000 milligrams; but most children are getting at least double, even triple that and if such a high salt diet continues, it could kill them. "We know that increased salt has a major impact on blood pressure and increased blood pressure has an increased risk for heart disease and stroke -- which is two of Australia's biggest killers", said a spokesperson from the Heart Foundation.

We compared the salt content in four popular children's take away meals -- Hungry Jacks, McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. The results are staggering.Terrie Bull is mother to 8-year-old Connor, and Isaac, 6. Terrie says, "I try and stay away from high fat, high sugar, healthy foods for them - fresh food", but salt is something Terrie hadn't considered.

Her boy's school lunch boxes consist of rice crackers, vegemite spread and biscuits, a cheese stick and a cheese, pastrami and corn relish sandwich -- definitely low in sugar, but the lunch box packs a whopping 2065 milligrams of salt -- that's 600 mgs more than they boys daily allowance.

Nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan says pre-packaged foods are often to blame. "Anything that comes as a dry good -- whether its in the cereal based foods even some healthy foods like bread, breakfast cereals, but also the snack foods you know, the little cereal bars and biscuits -- would be quite high salt", Aloysa said. Both the Heart Foundation and nutritionists say the easiest way to reduce your salt intake is to substitute the foods you eat now for those that are lower in salt.

Reading nutrition panels can help parents make good choices. Under 120 milligrams of salt is low, while 500 milligrams of salt per hundred grams is considered high. Some foods with a low salt rating were Weet-Bix, baked beans and try mountain bread instead of regular bread -- or look for bread and other food items with the Heart Foundation 'tick'. ."You can also do a bit of home baking and you can control the salt content that way, whereby with processed food often you get a bit more salt added in a preserving nature", Aloysa said. Back to the results of our fast food test. KFC's two piece and chips came out the worst, containing almost 1400 milligrams of salt -- a child's daily allowance in one meal. Three slices of ham and pineapple pizza from the Pizza Hut was second, .with 1240 milligrams. A McHappy Meal with 6 nuggets contained 689 milligrams of salt,

Just behind a kids Meal Burger Meal from Hungry Jacks which came out on top, with 685 milligrams. "We weren't surprised to see there's high amounts of salt in fast foods and we also know that there's high amounts of fat in those. What's important is people look at those as being occasional foods and not a staple part of their diet", Aloysa said.

They're very occasional foods for Connor and Isaac. Terrie says it can be a battle to get kids to eat what's good for them, but says the salt wake-up call is something on which she'll now make changes. "I think if you start young and you stay strong with it, you'll succeed as you get older", Terrie said.