ONE thousand deaths could be prevented in the Province each year if people reduce their salt intake by just a teaspoonful a day, celebrity chef Jenny Bristow said yesterday.
Helping launch the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland's Full Of It salt awareness campaign in Belfast, Jenny urged people to alter their eating habits by reading food labels and cooking fresh food.
Speaking at the Castle Court Shopping Centre, the Cullybackey-based culinary expert said that at present in Northern Ireland people are eating on average three grammes more salt than they should be daily.
Avoiding foods such as pizza, ready-made meals, pasta sauces, crisps and sandwiches, she said, would greatly reduce health risks such as heart disease and stroke, which are associated with eating too much salt.
"We eat one third too much salt per day in Northern Ireland. We should be consuming no more than six grammes a day which is a teaspoonful. But really on average we are consuming nine grammes a day," she said.
Demonstrating this point yesterday, the mother-of-three had baked two types of soda bread for Belfast city centre shoppers to taste.
Members of the public were then given the Salty Soda Taste Test task of identifying which version had more salt in it.
"My role today is to make people aware that three-quarters of the salt we consume is already in our food and the other quarter we are adding.
"The question is can we change our tastebuds to use less salt? Most importantly people need to start reading labels and become more aware of the high quantities of salt that is in convenience food.
"We can train our bodies to reducing our salt in-take in just four weeks," she said.
Maria Jennings, head of Consumer Choice and Food Standards for the FSANI, said people need to look at other ways to supplement their need for salt.
"People usually get cravings for salt when they are dehydrated. But instead of, let's say, eating a bag of crisps or having a fry-up, people should look at other ways to supplement that need by drinking more water or eating our soda bread for example," she said.
"We want to reduce the average daily consumption of salt from current levels of nine grams a day to the recommended 6 grams by 2010.
"Eating too much salt can be a factor in developing high blood pressure which can triple the risk of heart disease and stroke and causes or contributes to more than 1,000 deaths a year in Northern Ireland alone.
"The message simply is to check the label and pick the product with the lowest amount of salt."
Dr Michael McBride, chief medical officer for the Department of Health Social Service and Public Safety, said the benefits of lowering the consumption of salt should not be underestimated.
"I would encourage everyone to consider the salt content of what they buy and choose a lower salt option if available.
"If we are to seriously tackle the number of deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke, people need to start acting on their salt intake," he said.
"Adults should be eating no more than six grams of salt a day with children consuming even less."