Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Labelling the salt content in foods: a useful tool in reducing sodium intake in Finland

Pirjo Pietinena1 c1, Liisa M Valstaa1, Tero Hirvonena1 and Harri Sinkkoa1

a1 Department of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention, National Public Health Institute (KTL), Mannerheimintie 166, 00300 Helsinki, Finland


Objective To estimate the impact of choosing food products labelled either as low or high in salt on salt intake in the Finnish adult population.

Setting and subjects The National FINDIET 2002 survey with 48-hour recalls from 2007 subjects aged 25–64 years. Sodium intake was calculated based on the Fineli® food composition database including the sodium content of natural and processed foods as well as the salt content of recipes. The distribution of salt intake was calculated in different ways: the present situation; assuming that all breads, cheeses, processed meat and fish, breakfast cereals and fat spreads consumed would be either ‘lightly salted’ or ‘heavily salted’ based on the current labelling practice; and, in addition, assuming that all foods would be prepared with 50% less or more salt.

Results Excluding underreporters, the mean salt intake would be reduced by 1.8 g in men and by 1.0 g in women if the entire population were to choose lightly salted products and further by 2.5 and 1.8 g, respectively, if also salt used in cooking were halved. Choosing heavily salted products would increase salt intake by 2.1 g in men and by 1.4 g in women. In the worst scenarios, salt intake would be further increased by 2.3 g in men and by 1.6 g in women.

Conclusions These calculations show that the potential impact of labelling and giving consumers the possibility to choose products with less salt is of public health importance. In addition, strategies to reduce the salt content of all food groups are needed.

(Received January 10 2007)

(Accepted March 27 2007)


c1 Corresponding author: Email