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Salt content of sauces in the UK and China: cross-sectional surveys
  1. Monique Tan1,
  2. Feng J He1,
  3. Jingmin Ding2,3,
  4. Yuan Li2,3,
  5. Puhong Zhang2,3,
  6. Graham A MacGregor1
  1. 1Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  2. 2Nutrition and Lifestyle Program, The George Institute for Global Health at Peking University Health Science Center, Beijing, China
  3. 3Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Feng J He; f.he{at}


Objectives (1) To assess the changes in the salt content of sauces in the UK in the past 10 years; (2) to compare the salt content of sauces in China with equivalent products sold in the UK and (3) to calculate the proportion of sauce products meeting the salt targets set by the UK Department of Health (DoH).

Design Cross-sectional surveys from the nutrition information panels of sauces.

Setting Major retailers in London, Beijing and Shijiazhuang operating at data collection times.

Main outcome measure Salt content of sauces.

Results Relative change in the median salt content of UK products ranged from −70.6% to +3.0% in sauces for which salt targets were set, whereas it ranged from −27.1% to +111.5% in sauces without targets. Median salt contents were on average 4.4-fold greater in Chinese sauces compared with their UK equivalents surveyed during the same period (2015–2017). Only 13.4% of the Chinese products met the UK 2017 salt targets, compared with 70.0% of UK products.

Conclusion In the UK, the target-based approach contributed to the reduction in the salt content of sauces over the course of the past 10 years. Currently, large variations in salt content exist within the same categories of sauces and 70% of the products have met DoH’s 2017 targets, demonstrating that further reductions are possible and lower salt targets should be set. In China, salt content of sauces is extremely high with similarly large variations within same categories of sauces, demonstrating the feasibility of reducing their salt content. As processed foods (including sauces) are expected to become an important contributor to salt intake in China, national salt reduction efforts such as setting salt targets would be a valuable, proactive strategy.

  • salt reduction
  • reformulation
  • sauces
  • salt targets
  • UK
  • China

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  • Contributors FJH conceived the idea. FJH and MT designed and conducted the research. JD, PZ and YL provided the Chinese data. JD assisted in managing the Chinese data. MT analysed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. FJH and MT had the primary responsibility for the final content of the manuscript. All the authors (MT, FJH, JD, YL, PZ and GAM) contributed to the interpretation of the results, revision of the manuscript and approved the final draft of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (NIHR Global Health Research Unit Action on Salt China at Queen Mary University of London) using Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding (16/136/77). MT is funded by the NIHR grant, FJH and GAM are partially funded by the NIHR grant. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Competing interests FJH is a member of the Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) group, a non-profit charitable organisation, and its international branch World Action on Salt & Health (WASH) and does not receive any financial support from CASH or WASH. GAM is the Chairman of Blood Pressure UK (BPUK), Chairman of CASH and Chairman of WASH and does not receive any financial support from any of these organisations. BPUK, CASH and WASH are non-profit charitable organisations. All other authors have no competing interest to declare.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.