Average HK diet 'has double safe limit of salt'
Hongkongers are eating twice as much salt as recommended by the World Health Organisation, raising the risk of strokes in people of all ages, university researchers say.
The average daily diet in the city includes about 10g of salt, while the WHO recommends less than 5g, Dr Ruth Chan Suk-mei, medicine and therapeutics research associate at the Chinese University, said.
One reason is the large quantities of processed food - which has a high salt content - being consumed.
Strokes, caused mainly by high blood pressure, are the fourth most common cause of death and the prime cause of disability in the city.
Anybody eating a typical meal could exceed 10g of salt by lunchtime without even realising it.
Figures from the university's Centre for Nutritional Studies and the government's Centre for Food Safety show a typical breakfast of satay beef noodles contains 6.08g of salt, and a lunch of beef brisket rice contains 5.44g - a total of 11.52g.
The risks are underlined by a university study in Hong Kong last year. The researchers found that strokes on average afflicted 13 out of every 100,000 people in the city each year from 1995 to 2001. This rose to 15 in 2005 to 2007. In 2010, Department of Health figures show there were 3,423 deaths from strokes - 8 per cent of all deaths.
If all those eating 10g of salt a day adjusted their intake to the WHO level, stroke incidence worldwide would be reduced by 23 per cent. This would save 1.25 million lives every year, according to World Action On Salt and Health, a global voluntary group established in Britain.
But awareness of the link between salt intake, blood pressure and strokes was not high in Hong Kong, said Professor Jean Woo, director of the Centre for Nutritional Studies.
'The government has been having dialogues with the food industry, but progress is slow, so public education is important,' she said.
Professor Mandy Sea Man-mei, the centre's manager, said the youngest stroke patient she had seen was a 14-year-old boy. He ate instant noodles almost every day with a lot of seasoning powder. His blood pressure was up to 180/90.
After Sea suggested eating less salt and replacing instant noodles with rice noodles and using less seasoning, his blood pressure went back to a normal level of 110/70.
'It usually takes around four weeks for people to get used to a low-salt diet. After that they usually find that they can taste the original flavours of different foods, which they hadn't known before,' she said.