Salty Snags

Why so Salty?

The humble snag copped a lot of flak recently, with health experts slamming the Aussie icon. A Bunning’s sausage on bread with tomato sauce is quintessentially Australian, and probably the closest thing to a national dish we have. It’s no wonder that people were outraged by experts calling to curb our intake. Few understand the evidence behind this recommendation, so let’s look a little deeper before turning our back on the backyard BBQ delicacy.

Don’t? Chuck Another Snag on the Barbie?

All this saltiness began with research conducted by the George Institute which investigates the sodium content of the humble sausage. It even goes as far as to name and shame some of the saltiest snags out there with Coles thin pork sausages ranking number 1. It found that a singular sausage in bread, with tomato sauce delivers a whopping 2350g of sodium, which exceeds the suggested daily target. The Institute made sure to point out that it’s unlikely we ever consume just one sausage at a time. The study suggests swapping out the snag for vegetable skewers and chicken breast. However, Ms Farrand, a public health nutritionist involved with the study understands that ‘everybody enjoys a sausage occasionally and we’re not by any means telling people to not eat sausages’. While admirably patriotic and realistic, Ms Farrand’s comments serve to further confuse people.

Poking Holes

A Coles spokeswoman was the first to openly scrutinise the study. It’s not surprising that the No.1 salty sausage makers were the first to poke holes in the study. She pointed out that the salt content was measured with some sausages raw, and some cooked, and that water losses during cooking increase the salt concentration of the sausage. She makes a great point. The Institute confirmed that the cooked/raw status of sausages can affect salt status. Rather than admitting this as a flaw in their research, they highlighted this as a reason that it is so difficult for consumers to determine the salt content of their foods.

Quantifying Saltiness

The study aimed to quantify the sodium content of sausages over time, looking at processed meats from 2010, 2013 and 2015. The 2017 data, was collected from the Nutrition Information Panel found on the back of packaging. Unfortunately, nutrition information panels aren’t always the most accurate for defining a food’s contents. While they provide a good ball park figure that alerts consumers to the contents of their foods, they are not designed for use in scientific studies that translate to a public health message. In fact, nutrition information panels can be up to 25% inaccurate. It is therefore inappropriate to derive a finite sodium content for each type of sausage, rather than an estimation or range. The study fails to address this limitation.

Furthermore, the study excluded any sausage that reported no ‘sodium/100g’ on their packaging. This means that some sausages were left out. The study fails to identify how many sausages were excluded, but we can know for sure that this means that the average sodium content calculated, is incorrect. Or at least, not representative of all sausages on the market.

Too Salty or Not Salty Enough?

Public health nutritionists that are involved with the study declare that the average Aussie is consuming about 44 sausages per year. Their interpretation of this statistic is that we need to cut down, in order to get our salt consumption under control. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to cancel Sunday’s BBQ, so I did some math.

44 sausage a year equates to .8 sausage a week. Less than 1 sausage a week! Is this really a statistic we need to be concerned about?

22 sausages per year equates to 16 tsp of salt. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, and it’s really only the sodium we care concerned about in terms of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. 16tsp of salt per year equates to less than 2mg sodium per day. In practical terms, this would mean taking our weekly .8 of a sausage, dividing it into 7, and having this portion every day. That’s just over .1 of a sausage per day. This highlights the ridiculousness of this statistic, which has scared and outraged the public. All the while, distracting from constrictive health messages and further confusing the public.

It’s stats like these that media grabs a hold of and that promote distrust in the dietetic profession.

The Backlash

Understandably, this study angered the public. Dietitians were made out to be ‘food Nazis robbing Australia of its’ culture. This only contributes to the current mistrust of the nutrition and dietetics profession and is counterproductive to the profession’s advancement.

The George Institute presents its major finding as the high sodium content of sausages. However, fails to highlight some of its more positive findings. The study found that the sodium content of other processed meats such as ham and bacon has declined since 2010. Instead of promoting this positive news as the key finding, it chooses to focus on how sausages are not improving in sodium content. Instead of encouraging a switch from sausage to bacon/ham, it encourages decreased consumption of sausages. While the difference in these two messages is subtle, it makes a large difference in the effectiveness of the public health message. People like to be told what they can eat, and not what they can’t.

To Snag or Not to Snag

Let me spell this out for you nice and clear. The study is effective in raising awareness of sodium content in processed meats. It highlights the high sodium content of sausages. This is not to say that we all have to cut down our snag consumption. If you are eating more than 3 sausages a week, then we can talk about cutting down. But if you’re the average Aussie meeting your less than once weekly quota, your friendly social BBQ is not going to harm you!

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