London, Nov 30 (IANS) High salt levels in cheese may be fuelling an epidemic of high blood pressure (BP) linked to strokes, heart attacks and thousands of premature deaths, claims a group that works towards greater awareness of the effects of salt on health.
Cheese can contain as much salt as junk food products, says Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).
A bit of cheddar was found to have a greater amount of salt than a bag of crisps, while feta, halloumi and other popular types contain higher levels of salt than seawater.
CASH chairman Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute here, said: "We urge the government to stop dragging its heels and set new, lower, targets for cheese manufacturers to work towards. 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," McGregor added, the Daily Mail reports.
CASH is urging families to cut down on cheese intake, insisting on new guidelines for manufacturers to ensure lower levels of salt.
Cheese, which also usually carries high levels of saturated fat, is the third-biggest contributor of salt to the national diet, after bread and bacon.
Together, these alone are responsible for the recommended daily intake of six grams - about a teaspoon - being exceeded by over a third. The average intake is 8.1g a day. Doctors say salt is a major factor in high blood pressure.
A survey of hundreds of supermarket products by CASH found that the saltiest option on the high street was roquefort, with one gram in a typical portion of 30g.
Iceland Cheese Food Slices carry more salt in one 20g portion - 0.56g - than in a packet of crisps.
However, CASH did find that it is possible for shoppers to switch to relatively low-salt or even salt-free cheese for a healthier option.