SCOTLAND'S 'salt tooth' is being described as a "public health timebomb" with experts warning action is needed to reverse the trend.

YouGov research for health campaigners Season With Sense states that around 45% of Scots profess to have 'salt tooth' which they say is potentially deadly and increases the risk of hypertension and high blood pressure.

The campaigners say that the nation that was famed for its sweet tooth now has a "staggering" number of people who are craving salt instead.

The concerns have surfaced despite campaigns to meet a long standing Scottish Dietary Goal set by the Scottish Government for the average population salt intake in Scotland to reduce to 6g of salt per day.

Salt intakes were last officially assessed in adults in Scotland nine years ago - despite past concerns over intake.

A survey of 172 Scots in March found that of those who expressed a taste preference - 45% said they wanted salty while 55% went for sweet.

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The analysis also shows that despite Scots apparent love of salt, 87% still don’t know the maximum recommended intake of salt according to the NHS is 6g per day.

The World Health Organisation recommends a salt intake of less than 5g per day for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death globally.

The average person in the UK is thought to eat around 8.1g salt a day which Season With Sense say is a "major concern" as excess salt significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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The campaigners say that for ever 1g of salt cut from the average daily UK diet there would be an estimated 4,147 fewer premature deaths, saving the NHS £288m each year.

The analysis launched for Salt Awareness Week calls on Scots to take part in its ‘Stick to Six’ challenge, which invites participants to begin monitoring their salt intake, just like they would calories, fat or sugar. Public health advocate and Season With Sense campaigner, Dr Sarah Jarvis, said: “When it comes to talking about what we eat and its impact on our health, sugar is regularly at the forefront of our minds. It may come as a surprise then, that it’s excess salt we really need to tackle. “This new data paints a worrying picture about Scotland’s relationship with salt and that millions of us who are putting ourselves at increased risk of heart attack and stroke on a daily basis.

“The good news is the power is in our hands to change that - and through small, simple changes like tracking our salt intake we can really get to grips with curbing a deadly hidden habit like the ‘salt tooth’."

The Scottish Government agency, Food Standards Scotland published research in 2016 that found that two third of adults in Scotland continue to eat too much salt.

The assessment of dietary sodium produced as part of the Scottish Government's national diet and nutrition survey found that salt intake had dropped by around 13% between 2006 and 2014.

In 2014 the mean estimated salt intake for adults aged 19 to 64 years in Scotland was 7.8g/day. For men it was 8.6g and for women it was 6.9g. It found that on average salt intakes were 29% higher than recommended.

This sparked effort to raise public awareness of salt intake and health to enable individuals to make informed choices through information - including front of pack labelling - and education.

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Parallel action also focused on reformulation of manufactured foods, as around 75% of the salt consumed had come from manufactured foods.

Voluntary salt (sodium) targets for 85 food categories were first set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2006.

By 2017, the agency said the salt levels in many foods covered by previous targets had reduced significantly, some by 40-50% or more, and more than 11m kilograms (24.2m pounds) of salt were removed from foods.

But it was then accepted that the average UK salt consumption remained high at between 8.1g and 8.8g a day.

Caroline Klinge, founder of the Season with Sense salt awareness campaign added: "It's imperative that individuals, food manufacturers, and policymakers work together to reduce salt intake and improve the health of our nation.

“Globally, an estimated 1.89 million diet-related deaths annually are associated with excessive intake of salt2. Eating less salt is one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve our health and reduce the burden on our health system."

A Food Standards Scotland spokesman said: "Assessing salt intakes in the population is challenging, as it is difficult to quantify the salt that is present in foods and added during cooking or at the table. Therefore urinary sodium surveys are used to assess salt intakes.

"Around 60% of the salt in the diet comes from processed foods, with the rest coming from sodium naturally present in foods, and salt that is added during cooking or eating. Cutting down on foods that are typically high in salt (such as processed meats and cheese), checking food labels and choosing lower salt versions, and replacing salt with herbs and spices when cooking are all good ways to cut down on salt.

"There are targets for the food industry to gradually reduce the levels of salt in processed/manufactured foods that contribute the most salt to diets."

The FSS said that the Food and Drink Federation Scotland has a reformulation for health programme which aims to help small and medium sized food businesses to reformulate their products to make them healthier, this can include reducing the salt in products.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ensuring Scotland is a place where we eat well, have a healthy weight and are physically active remains a public health priority. Our Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan sets out ambitious and wide-ranging action to address this challenge, including our aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

“We are actively considering a range of approaches to tackle the health harms that can come from consuming too much salt -  that includes progressing the legislation necessary to restrict promotions of foods high in fat, sugar or salt.

“We consulted on proposals to restrict promotions of less healthy food and drink where they are sold to the public.  Our consultation is now closed and responses are now being analysed to help inform the development of this policy.”