According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), cutting back on salty foods such as bacon, bread and breakfast cereals may reduce people’s risk of developing stomach cancer. The organisation calls for clearer labelling on foods, such as traffic light labelling which shows the amount of salt in processed foods, and urges people to eat less salt in their daily diets. The recommended daily amount is 6g, about a level teaspoon, but the WCRF found that some people were consuming 8.6 a day, 43 per cent higher than the maximum recommended amount, without realising. In the UK, the WCRF said that one in seven stomach cancers would be prevented if people kept to daily guidelines and Cancer Research UK said this figure could be even higher.
Around 6,000 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer every year in the UK and the WCRF estimate that at least 14% of cases, around 800, could be avoided if people kept to the recommended 6g of salt a day. Head of Information at WCRF, Kate Mendoza, said: “Stomach cancer is difficult to treat successfully because most cases are not caught until the disease is well-established.” And Katharine Jenner from Consensus Action on Salt and Health wants us to eat even less, saying that by consuming less than six grammes of salt could prevent stroke and cancer deaths. She commented, “This places even greater emphasis on making lifestyle choices to prevent the disease occurring in the first place – such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables.”
The problem with over consuming salt is that most of it is hidden in the food we already eat, such as processed foods like sausages, pies, pastries, bread and ready meals. The WCRF want a clear coding on such packaged food to show the consumer how much salt is in the processed food, so that we can make an informed decision as to whether we want to buy it. The ‘traffic-light’ system is where food is labelled – red for high salt and fat, amber for medium and green for low. Supermarkets however, have historically been against traffic light coding, all apart from Sainsburys who found that people did not stop buying food, as was the worry, they just changed what they bought. A big difference Sainburys found was in packaged sandwiches; whereas before, high fat and salt content sandwiches would be fairly popular, once the traffic light labelling was introduced, the healthier options that showed mostly green traffic lights were chosen over the red light options.
Lucy Boyd, from Cancer Research UK, said, “This research confirms what a recently published report from Cancer Research UK has shown – too much salt also contributes considerably to the number of people getting stomach cancer in the UK. On average people in Britain eat too much salt and intake is highest in men. Improved labelling – such as traffic light labelling – could be a useful step to help consumers cut down.” Currently there are many different ways of labelling food and no one set way. Ms Mendoza added, “Standardised labelling among retailers and manufacturers – rather than the different voluntary systems currently in place – would help consumers make better informed and healthy choices.” And the Department of Health agrees, “We already know too much salt can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. That is why we are taking action through the ‘Responsibility Deal’ to help reduce the salt in people’s diets. And we are looking at clearer… labelling on foods as part of our consultation on front-of-pack labelling. We keep these findings under review alongside other emerging research in the field.”
Each year in the UK around 7,500 new cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed and almost 5,000 people die from the disease.