• The report shows that just one tablespoon of fish sauce contains 96 per cent of the recommended daily salt intake, on average. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
A new report shows that one tablespoon of fish sauce contains 96% of your daily salt intake.
By
Yasmin Noone

13 Nov 2018 - 12:55 PM  UPDATED 13 Nov 2018 - 3:26 PM

The famous bottled mix of fermented fish and salt, fish sauce, may make your Southeast Asian dishes sparkle with flavour. But according to a new Australian report  released today, consuming too much fish sauce might increase your blood pressure and put your heart health at risk.

The report, from The George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation, shows that just by having one tablespoon of fish sauce on its own – without food – you’ve almost consumed the total amount of salt that’s recommended for an entire day.  

When researchers analysed the salt content of 157 popular Asian-style sauce products, bought from Australia’s four major supermarkets between 2010 and 2018, they found that fish sauce was the saltiest offender.

The report shows that just one tablespoon of the popular ingredient contains 96 per cent of the recommended daily salt intake, on average.

...a small soy sauce plastic fish packet – the kind you drizzle over a sushi roll – contains 10 per cent of our daily salt intake.

A single tablespoon of the average soy sauce contains 61 percent of our recommended daily salt intake, while a small soy sauce plastic fish packet – the kind you drizzle over a sushi roll – contains 10 per cent of our daily salt intake.

Oyster sauce has the lowest salt percentage of the Asian-style sauces – although it’s still quite high compared to other food products – with one tablespoon accounting for an average of 36 per cent of our recommended daily salt intake.

“We haven’t spoken much about the salt content of these Asian-style sauces before,” Heart Foundation Dietitian Sian Armstrong, tells SBS.

“So while people taste that they are salty, they might be surprised to find out how much salt is actually in them.

“We know that a diet high in salt could lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

The report also highlights the variation in the salt content of different brands of soy sauces.

The saltiest soy sauce, Chang's Light Soy Sauce (21.9g of salt per 100ml) had more than double the amount of salt as the lowest salt soy sauce, Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Less Salt Soy Sauce (9.5g of salt per 100ml).

“We know that a diet high in salt could lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers found there were no significant changes in the average sodium content of Asian style sauces overall or any of the categories of Asian style sauces between 2010-2018.

The George Institute’s public health nutritionist and the report’s lead author, Clare Farrand, says it’s a concern that in almost a decade there’s been no reduction in the salt levels in these popular sauces.

“In the past decade we’ve seen no reduction in the amount of salt in these sauces and there are no targets in place to bring about change,” says Farrand.

“People assume soy sauces can’t be made less salty, but this report shows that’s not the case, with some soy, tamari and oyster sauces containing much lower salt levels. We want to see all manufacturers reducing the salt levels in their sauces – it can be done.”

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How salty are our diets?

In 2006, the World Health Organisation (WHO)  set a global target of reducing population salt intake to below five grams a day. Meanwhile, the average Australian adult has a mean salt intake of approximately nine grams a day, which is nearly double the WHO recommended target.

The new report shows that Australians consider 16mL of fish sauce to be an average serving size – that’s slightly less than a full tablespoon. We use less soy sauce, which has an average serving size of 14mL, and oyster sauce with the average serving size being 13mL.

“We aren’t saying that you shouldn’t have a stir-fry with an Asian-style sauce every now and again because it can be a very healthy meal option,” says Armstrong.

“But just be aware that there can be a lot of salt in these sauces. If you’re cooking with these sauces, try and use a salt-reduced version that’s available from the supermarket.”

Armstrong also recommends using ‘salternatives’ like garlic, ginger and chilli to flavour dishes instead of high-salt content sauces.

“If you are eating out, you can also reduce the serving size of these sauces a little bit. Your taste buds will adapt to a lower salt content over time.”

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