China has the highest levels of salt in meat and fish products out of five major countries, according to a new study.
The US had the second-highest level, while South Africa was ranked in third place ahead of Australia in fourth and UK fifth.
Reducing salt intake has been identified as a highly cost-effective strategy to prevent high blood pressure and deaths from heart problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum salt intake of 2000mg per day — half the 2010 global average — and has set a target of a 30 per cent worldwide reduction by 2025.
To assess progress on this target, researchers from universities across China looked at the salt content in a range of everyday food products in five countries that consume large volumes of meat and fish.
The study, published in the BMJ Open journal and covering fresh, tinned and frozen food sourced from major supermarket chains, showed that salt levels varied widely, depending on the product and brand.
For example, both the UK and US scored poorly on the amount of salt in their bacon but did well in meat alternative products.
Some 26,500 products were analysed across the five nations.
Overall, China had the highest salt level (1050mg/100g) across all products, ranking it the country with the saltiest products for both meat (1066mg/100g) and fish products (942mg/100g), followed by the USA, South Africa, Australia and the UK (432mg/100g).
But the average salt content of meat products was slightly lower in Australia (580mg/100 g) than it was in the UK (590 mg/100g).
A substantial proportion of processed products fell into the red and amber traffic light categories, with the highest proportion of green light products found in the UK. The UK also had the highest percentage of products achieving salt reduction targets.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’re committed to reducing salt levels in food, helping to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease - and this study demonstrates the progress the industry has made.
“We continue to work in partnership with the food industry to reduce salt levels in commonly eaten foods.”
Daily consumption of 100g of meat and fish products would account for just over 47 per cent of the WHO recommended daily maximum in China and the USA, 37 per cent in South Africa, nearly 35 per cent in Australia, and 27 per cent in the UK.
“It is not easy to simply replace or reformulate the high sodium products that already exist for years,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“However, the large difference in sodium content of similar products in different countries, and the difference in sodium content among different brands within the same country, indicate that there is still a lot of room for salt reduction.”