By Brett Spiegel
It's not news that an abundance of salt in your diet can lead to, or worsen, high blood pressure. But what happens when unnecessary salt infiltrates your favorite munchies, like cheese? A new survey from the British health organization Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) has found that salt is being superfluously added to cheese.
According to the British Cheese Board, 98 percent of U.K.households consume cheese, with cheddar the top pick among the 700,000 tons consumed annually on sandwiches, salads, pasta, and more. In 2010, Americans consumed over 33 pounds of cheese per person, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
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CASH evaluated 772 cheese products -- 30 varieties of cheese in all -- and found that many cheeses contained more salt than a single bag of chips, averaging 0.52g salt per 30g portion.
The saltiest cheeses included Roquefort, Feta, and Halloumi. The least salty cheeses were Mozzarella, Emmental, and Wensleydale. There were wide variations among different brands of the same varieties of cheese. For example, one kind of Gorgonzola was six times saltier than another. Additionally, processed cheeses assessed by CASH were extremely high in sodium.
"We already know most cheese is high in fat; however we often add it to our meals without thinking how much salt it contains." said CASH campaign director Katharine Jenner in the report. "[I]t's worth looking at the label and choosing a lower salt version of your favorite cheese, or just use a little less next time you get the grater out," she added.
A diet heavy in salt is known to play a role in increasing blood pressure, thus elevating your risk for such conditions as stroke or heart attack. If you're particularly sensitive to salt or at risk for some of these conditions, keep in mind that there are a variety of cheese styles available -- from fat free to reduced fat to low fat -- and that some are lower in salt than others.
"Even small reductions will have large health benefits, for every one gram reduction in population salt intake, we can prevent 12,000 heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure, half of which would have been fatal." said Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, in the report. "The Department of Health must now stop its delaying tactics and set new much lower targets for cheese manufacturers, and make sure they achieve them."
Cheese is not without it's health benefits as well. It's a good source of calcium (for bone health) and protein (which can control hunger and help with weight loss). "The CASH survey is mixing up the effect of cheese on health with the effect of salt on health," Judith Bryans, PhD, registered nutritionist and director of the British Dairy Council, told the BBC. "Salt is an integral part of the cheese-making process. It is not added for taste or flavor but for safety and technical reasons."
But all good things in moderation, right? "We should all be eating less than 6g salt a day, about a teaspoon, yet we are currently eating much more (8.1g salt/day)," noted Jenner in the report.
"Cheese: Another Hidden Source of Salt" originally appeared on Everyday Health.