Fighting the good fight: comprehensive action to reduce sodium levels in food
Health organizations have been concerned for some time about the need for Canada to take action on the issue of sodium consumption. Sodium is an element found in table salt and in many foods in our diet. Sodium consumption is one of the most obvious modifiable risk factors for heart disease, since cutting sodium has an almost immediate impact on high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke and health disease.
Almost all Canadians consume too much sodium. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate that the average Canadian consumes more than 3,100 mg of sodium a day whereas an adequate daily intake is 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg of sodium.
In 2007, 17 Canadian health organizations came together to urge the federal government to set graduated targets for sodium levels, monitor progress, and educate consumers. Dr. Kevin Willis, director of the Canadian Stroke Network, said: "If we discovered that a food additive was causing 30% of all cancers, something would be done right away. The same action is needed with sodium to prevent stroke, heart disease and other vascular illnesses."
The process of setting targets for sodium content in foods is complex, according to Health Canada. Sodium is used as flavouring and as a preservative and antibacterial agent, and has many effects on the texture and structure of foods. In 2007, the Government of Canada established the Sodium Working Group and in 2009 the Group recommended that sodium consumption be reduced to 2300 mg per person per day by the year 2016. This goal was based on the criteria that sodium targets be voluntary, significant, gradual, realistic, feasible, measurable and sustainable.
For this to be achieved, Canadians will need to become more aware of sodium in foods. Mandatory nutrition labelling for pre-packaged foods will assist consumers because sodium is one of the nutrients listed.
Canadian consumers can "fight the good fight" by:
- Choosing foods that are lower in sodium such as fresh, unprocessed foods
- Reading the nutrition label to make informed food choices
- Looking for foods that are salt-free, low in sodium, or reduced in sodium
- Preparing foods with little or no added salt and trying other flavouring options such as herbs and spices
The Sodium Working Group released its Strategy Report, including a framework for monitoring and evaluation, in the summer of 2010.
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Image source:Health Canada