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A new survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) reveals that a staggering 96 per cent of the UK population don't know the levels of salt they can consume 'safely' - before it starts becoming a real threat to their 'heart health'.

The BHF is concerned that too many of us are consuming too much salt which can raise blood pressure, leading to a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. The charity is therefore launching a nationwide awareness campaign to highlight the dangers and warning people that they can no longer take these warnings with 'a pinch of salt'!

Despite recent publicity about the amount of 'hidden' salt in processed foods, 78 per cent of those surveyed are adding even more salt during cooking or at the table but more worryingly, 29 per cent are adding salt while cooking and at the table.

When it came to ranking foods in order of salt content, over a quarter (28 per cent) of consumers recognised a can of soup as the worst offender closely followed by a slice of bread (20 per cent), which can contain on average 4 grams.

The nationwide poll also asked respondents if they knew what their blood pressure reading should be - and over two thirds (68%) couldn't give a figure. When asked what factors they felt could lead to high blood pressure, 64% wrongly cited stress and anxiety as the main cause whereas only 11% gave salt intake - one of the major contributory factors - as their answer.

This survey is part of the charity's ongoing work to inform the public about the dangers of consuming too much salt and the link with raised blood pressure and coronary heart disease.

The daily average intake in the UK is 9g which exceeds the recommended amount of 6g . A person can reduce their salt intake by;

" adding less to their cooking
" refraining from adding salt to food at the table
" avoiding salty snacks such as crisps & nuts
" eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
" by looking at the nutrition panel and choosing foods that have a low sodium content

Presenter of the BBC's Ready, Steady, Cook, Ainsley Harriott backed the campaign and said: "Cutting down on salt gradually is the easiest way to con your palate! If you lower the amount of salt each time you cook - you'll soon find you'll need less and less to make it just as tasty. To satisfy a savoury craving, why not try smoked meat or fish, they're naturally salty so you don't have to add extra."

Kevin Woodford, TV Chef, added: "By using herbs and spices creatively and adding flavours like garlic, ginger or lemon grass, you can very easily achieve great tasting healthy dishes without adding lots of salt. With a bit of experimentation and flair, you can drastically cut your salt without even noticing that you're doing so!!

Belinda Linden, Head of Medical Information at the British Heart Foundation says; "The link between salt and high blood pressure is well documented but these survey results show that there is still a lot of work to be done to educate members of the public about the dangers of consuming too much salt.

She added; "Many processed foods, such as baked beans contain high levels of 'hidden' salt. In fact, up to 85 per cent of a person's dietary salt intake comes from processed foods. We want consumers to be aware of safe salt levels in food and by reducing their intake; they can actively play a role in reducing their risk of high blood pressure and potential heart problems."

For more information about reducing salt intake, please visit the website, www.bhf.org.uk  or call 0870 600 6566 for your Heart Health pack.