The salt levels of the majority of popular foods sold at the high street markets of the United Kingdom have "shockingly" increased, a new study conducted by a health group has revealed.

Because of the findings, supermarkets and food manufacturers have been accused of taking advantage of the Government's shift to a system of voluntary regulation of salt levels wherein manufacturers and retailers police themselves.

Known as Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), the group said the development made before 2010 under the salt-reduction program supervised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has become forfeited due to the voluntary system.

The National Health Service's guidelines recommend that adults eat no more than 6g of salt per day, which is equivalent to one teaspoon. But monitoring consumption can be difficult as three-quarters of the salt Brits consume is from breakfast cereals, bread and ready meals.

In the study, Cash has found that about 55 percent of 45 canned tomato soups tested this year contained the equivalent amount of salt or even more than that in 2010. They found that the vegetarian Italian tomato and basil of Baxters, which possessed 3.5g salt for every 400g can of soup, contains more salt than a meal of McDonald's large fries and Big Mac.

About 95 percent of the cheese products examined by Cash contained more salt per serving compared to a small package of salted crisps. A breakdown of the levels of salt of 201 chunks of cheese has revealed that certain products contained more salt than in 2012. In particular, Sainsbury's turned the salt content of its Lighter mature British cheese from 1.7g per 100g to 1.98g per 100g, a clear 16 percent rise.

Ready meals such as the Truly Irresistible cottage pie of Co-operative's and the Gastropub cottage pie of Marks & Spencer's had salt contents of 2.9g per 400g serving. This was about as near to the salt content in two Pot Noodle packs, which had 3g, the research has found.

Additionally, Kellogg's cornflakes possessed the greatest salt content among the cornflakes in the study. Cash said it contained more than thrice as much salt as Aldi's Harvest Morn cornflakes. Kellogg's at 1.13g of salt per 100g serving while Aldi's had 0.34g of salt per 100g serving.

Cash Chair Graham MacGregor, who is also a professor at Queen Mary University of London, finds it a tragedy that the government seized responsibility for food and diet from the FSA and transferred it to the Health department in 2010.

MacGregor said that it has unsurprisingly failed, and consequently resulted into thousands of deaths from heart disease and strokes.

With that, the health group is urging immediate action from ministers. "It is imperative that responsibility for nutrition be handed back to an independent agency," said MacGregor.

However, retailers such as Co-operative and Sainsbury's defended their products.

Co-op Food diet and health manager Janet Taylor said the company is committed to helping customers make healthier choices through initiatives such as honest labeling and reformulation of products.

"Eighty-seven percent of our own-brand products already meet the 2017 salt targets," said Taylor.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury's said salt reduction is an important part of its program of reformulation, and all products referenced meet the Government's 2017 salt targets, with the exception of the cornflakes. Those are currently being redeveloped, the company said.

Photo: Peter O'Connor | Flickr

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Tags: Nutrition Salt