Last updated: 25 Jan, 2019

Limiting sugar might be top of mind for parents when packing school lunchboxes but hidden salt in processed and packaged foods is also putting the health of Aussie kids at risk.

New research from Heart Foundation and VicHealth’s Unpack the Salt campaign has shown Victorian parents are confused about the amount of salt their families should be consuming with 58 percent of parents believing their family eats the right amount of salt. This is despite the fact that most Australians consume nearly double the recommended amount of salt. 

The research also found that only 27% of parents had tried to reduce their family’s salt intake, highlighting a disturbing lack of concern or awareness about the health risks of salt.

Key findings included:

  • 60% of parents were more worried about sugar than salt
  • Only 27% of parents were aware they should be eating less than a teaspoon of salt
  • 21% of parents believe kids who are active should be able to eat more salt
  • 19% of parents think eating a lot of salt is ok as long as it’s the “right” type

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said there was a lot of misinformation from self-proclaimed health experts that was clearly having an impact on parents’ knowledge about salt.

“There is a lot of conflicting information about nutrition and what to feed your family – particularly with the rise of food blogs and foodie influencers – so it’s really tough for parents to sort fact from fiction,” Ms Rechter said.

“We want parents to know that too much salt – whether it’s pink, from the sea or the Himalayas – is harmful for their family’s health.”

Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong said “Skipping the salt in school lunchboxes can make a big difference to your child’s future heart health. We know kids who develop a taste for salt are at risk of high blood pressure in adulthood, which can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.”

“Seventy-five percent of the salt we consume daily is hidden in processed and packaged foods, and what’s particularly concerning is some of these foods don’t even taste salty.”

Here are some quick tips to swap the salty snacks in school lunchboxes.

  1. Ditch store-bought muffins for homemade quick and easy zucchini slice to increase your child’s vegetable intake.

    Store-bought muffins can be loaded with too much salt, sugar and fat. Why not try a zucchini or vegetable slice as a fun way to help you child eat more veggies.

  2. Swap salty dips for a low salt version or better yet, make your own hummus or tzatziki, and pair with carrot, celery or cucumber sticks.

    Research found there was a huge range in the salt content of chilled store-bought dips. The saltiest of all were olive-based dips which contained on average 2.1g of salt per 100g. The lowest average salt content was found in tzatziki, spinach and guacamole dips, with 0.9g of salt per 100g.

  3. Switch flavoured rice crackers for plain rice crackers, plain rice cakes or plain corn cakes.

    Rice crackers are often viewed as ‘healthy snacks’ but flavoured varieties can pack a salt punch. Research found there was a huge variation in the salt content of crackers that ranged from 0 to 5.3g of salt per 100g.

  4. Swap salt and vinegar chips for a packet of unsalted popcorn.

    By switching to unsalted popcorn, you can reduce the salt without losing the convenience of popping a packet in your child’s lunchbox. And pop in some whole fruit like an apple, orange or a banana to ensure your child is getting all the healthy fibre and nutrients they need.

  5. Leftovers – tasty, easy, time efficient.

Last night’s Napoli tomato pasta can become today’s lunchtime pasta salad. Throw in a couple of your child’s favourite veggies to help them reach their recommended five serves a day.

Ms Armstrong also urged parents to make a commitment to reduce their family’s salt intake through joining our Unpack your Lunch 10 Day Salt Challenge, which offers tips, information and healthy salt-reduced recipes that are simple and easy to cook.

“Choosing to eat fresh is best, but if you are buying packaged or processed foods, read the label and pick products with less than 400 mg of sodium (salt) per 100 g. If available, choose a ‘no added salt’, ‘low salt’ or ‘reduced salt’ option. By joining our Unpack your Lunch 10 Day Salt Challenge, you and your family can start reducing your daily salt intake for better heart health now and into the future,” Ms Armstrong said.

Media enquiries:

About the Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership

The Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership was established in 2014 in response to alarming high levels of salt consumption by the Victorian public. The partnership comprises of peak public health organisations: VicHealth, Heart Foundation (Victoria), The George Institute for Global Health, Deakin University Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), National Stroke Foundation, Kidney Health Australia, The Victorian Department for Health and Human Services, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and the High Blood Pressure Research Council. Australia is committed to meeting the World Health Organization’s target of 30 percent reduction in average population salt intake by 2025. To achieve this, the partnership has developed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at gaining consensus and commitment for salt reduction action from governments, public and industry in Victoria.