Food manufacturers were urged yesterday to cut the level of salt in products such as ready-made meals to help combat heart disease. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked manufacturers of food containing hidden salt to follow the example of bakers, who have achieved large reductions in the amount of sodium in bread.

A new study by the FSA shows each person in Britain consumes an average of one and a half teaspoons of salt a day, above the recommended level of one level teaspoon. Bread accounts for nearly a quarter of the salt in people's diets, but the FSA study found that levels of salt in bread had fallen by 21 per cent compared to three years ago.

Sir John Krebs, the FSA's chairman, said: "This change is of real importance for the health of our bread-eating nation – particularly for those who have been advised to reduce their salt intake."

The FSA study revealed "fresh" bread, from in-store bakeries, still contained the highest levels of salt at 545 milligrams of sodium per 100 grammes of bread.

High intake of salt has been linked to higher than average blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease or a stroke.