Salt — shake the habit

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Less is best when it comes to sodium


Foundation applauds national reduction strategy

With Newfoundland and Labrador continuing to have a high rate of heart disease and strokes, the provincial Heart and Stroke Foundation is pleased that the country’s health ministers have endorsed a national sodium reduction strategy.

“High sodium intake increases people’s blood pressure, so that’s a big health issue. We know that close to half of all heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if hypertension is controlled to targets,” said Leigh Thorne, co-ordinator of the foundation’s provincial stroke strategy.

It’s estimated that every year in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are more than 900 strokes.

While the foundation has been promoting healthy eating for a long time, Thorne said it’s challenging considering how much sodium there is in prepared foods. The key, she said, will be to get more food manufacturers and restaurants participating.

She said sodium is currently used not just to flavour foods, but also as a preservative.

The foundation is also involved in a recently established working group, called Without a Grain of Salt, in which health professionals aim to raise awareness with co-operation from food manufacturers.

Thorne said the recently released sodium reduction strategy for Canada will help provide a focus for this work.

This year, she said the foundation invited Dr. Norm Campbell from the national Sodium Working Group to speak at public forums in St. John’s and Corner Brook.

Thorne said Campbell’s research indicates that if people lowered their sodium intake for six weeks, their desire for salt would decrease. “That’s encouraging,” she said, because “from a consumer perspective, we know we can change our taste for salt.”

Thorne said the local working group works with community kitchens to educate people and offer tips on preparing low-salt meals.

The national Sodium Working Group, established in 2007, submitted a sodium reduction strategy report to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq in July. The report has been supported by premiers across the country and recently  health ministers meeting in St. John’s made a commitment to work to reduce sodium consumption in their jurisdictions.

The report says the average sodium intake for Canadians is about 3,400 mgs per day, which is much higher than the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s target of 2,300 mgs or less — the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt.

While the group says data on sodium consumption in Canada is limited, it refers to an Intersalt Co-operative Research Group study that indicated the average daily sodium intake in St. John’s was 4,239 mgs and 3,425 mgs in Labrador.

The group recommends that an average interim sodium intake goal of 2,300 mgs per day be achieved in Canada by 2016, but it also outlines adequate intake levels and tolerable upper intake levels of between 1,000 and 2,300 mgs, depending on age, with lowest levels for children and seniors.

Carol Dombrow, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with the national Heart and Stroke Foundation, said the foundation is a member of the Sodium Working Group and, through its Health Check program, has been working with industry since 1999 to help improve the Canadian food supply.

About 2,000 prepared foods are part of the Health Check program, meaning they meet criteria for ingredients established by the foundation. These foods are identified by a Health Check symbol.

Dombrow said about 10 national restaurant chains participate in the program by including Health Check meals on their menus and more restaurants are expected to soon come on board.

Dombrow said the Health Check sodium criteria, which was initially based on Health Canada values, was recently reduced between 25 and 70 per cent in almost every category.

New values, effective November 2010, will range from 140 to 720 mgs of sodium, with items like milk and yogurt having the lowest content to entrees or mixed dishes having the highest values.

Canned soups won’t bear the Health Check logo unless they contain 480 mg or less, while packaged meats will have to contain 360 mgs or less.

Dombrow said the values that will come out of the sodium reduction strategy for 2016 will be even lower, so the Heart and Stroke Foundation will adjust its values again to meet these targets.

To do this gradually makes sense, Dombrow said, because if sodium is reduced all at once, consumers likely won’t like these foods because they’re not used to the flavour.

“If you do it over time, their taste buds change and they get used to a lower sodium level.”

Manufacturers will also have to find alternatives. For example, Dombrow said, if you take away the salt in making bread, the dough becomes very sticky.

“So a lot of this has to come from product development to figure out how to reduce the sodium in these products and make sure that the food supply is still safe,” Dombrow said.

See SODIUM page 3

Organizations: World Health Organization

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Geneva

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Recent comments

  • Paddyjoe
    September 21, 2010 - 09:46

    Minister Kennedy is on the right track here. Newfoundlanders have some of the highest rates of heart disease and stroke in the country. We also have very high rates of type 2 diabetes. These are preventable conditions. Exercise, less fats and salt in diets can significantly reduce the incidence of these diseases----and save millions of taxpayer dollars. Our health care system is unsustainable into the future unless we take some responsibility for our own health.