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Some Chinese takeout has as much salt as 5 McDonald’s Big Macs, health experts warn

Worried about high blood pressure? You may want to stay away from Chinese takeout.

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Health experts have called for warning labels on Chinese takeaway and ready-made meals following a new survey revealing often "astonishing and harmful" salt levels.

The survey, published this week by a group of specialists from the United Kingdom-based organization Action on Salt, revealed that some Chinese takeaway dishes contain as much salt as five McDonald's Big Macs. Others contain more than half of the recommended daily allowance of salt for adults.

When it comes to ready-made Chinese meals in supermarkets, more than 40 percent of 141 that were analyzed had "high" levels of salt, meaning they contained more than 1.8 grams per portion. Some store-bought rice dishes have more salt than 11 bags of salted chips, the analysis revealed.

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"Considering how many millions of takeaways and ready meals are eaten ... the food industry must be held to account, with new salt targets set by the government to ensure the salt content of these meals is reduced to much lower levels, and fast," Sarah Alderton, assistant nutritionist at Action on Salt, said in a press release.

Sonia Pombo, the organization’s campaign manager, called for the industry to make changes to their products.

"Our data shows that food can be easily reformulated with lower levels of salt, so why haven't all companies acted responsibly?" Pombo said. "We are asking everyone, including the food industry, to think first and use less salt."

Hemini Bharadia of Blood Pressure UK described the findings as "very concerning."

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"We are all eating too much salt. This can lead to high blood pressure causing strokes and heart attacks, most of which could be avoided through better lifestyle choices," Bharadia told The Guardian.

Consuming high levels of salt has been linked to a variety of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.

"Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year," Graham MacGregor, the chairman of Action on Salt and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said. "Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease."

As activists in the UK call for salt warning labels, New York City is leading the charge on raising awareness about the risks. In 2015, it became the first city in the United States to require high-sodium warning labels on restaurant menus.

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According to the city government's health web page, New York is conducting "an unprecedented public-private partnership to help prevent heart disease and strokes by reducing the amount of sodium in packaged and restaurant foods."


"The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), a partnership of more than 100 state and local health authorities and national health organizations, set voluntary targets for salt levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food to guide food company sodium reductions in 2012 and 2014,” the city government shared on the site.

While this new survey from the U.K. may have highlighted the high levels of salt in Chinese food takeout and ready-made dishes, it’s important to note that high levels of sodium are common in many fast food favorites and snacks Americans consume on a daily basis.

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New York City's Deputy Health Commissioner Sonia Angell, who is also a physician, told NPR that many people just don't know there's a link between excessive salt intake, high blood pressure and heart disease.

"The majority of salt in our diet doesn't come from the salt shaker — it's already in the food when we purchase it," Angell said. "And that makes restaurants a really important place to give people guidance about how they might be making decisions — if they choose to do so — that might protect their health and their heart."

Read the full Action on Salt survey at actiononsalt.org.

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