Efforts to reduce sodium in processed foods have failed, according to the report recently released by Health Canada. In fact, the targets were so off that the report shows that sodium levels in some foods have actually increased. Needless to say, Health Canada’s strategy to lower sodium levels has resulted in a reduction of salt that is “much lower than anticipated,” the report states.
Four years ago, the federal department introduced phased-in targets to cut sodium in 94 categories of processed food. The goal was to meet those targets by the end of 2016.
Based on a 2017 evaluation of 10,500 sample products, the food industry has made no progress in reducing salt levels in 45 of those categories, equivalent to 48 percent. Sodium levels in several categories actually increased. In totality, only 14 percent of the categories hit their targets, according to the report.
The original goal was to cut the average per capita intake of salt to 2,300 mg a day by the end of 2016. Statistics show that approximately 80 percent of Canadians consume more than that amount daily with the average person ingesting about 3,400 mg per day, which is not a healthy amount.
“Ingesting excess sodium puts Canadians at risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease,” said Dr. Norm Campbell, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary.
Over 7.5 million Canadians have high blood pressure, and many of those cases can be attributed to salt in the diet, according to Campbell.
With the report’s result, Health Canada stated that additional measures are needed to lower sodium levels in processed food. There’s discussion of proposing regulations to help consumers make healthier choices.
One possibility is a regulation that would require a symbol on the front of packaged foods that are high in sodium, sugars, and/or saturated fat.
This would have the potential of encouraging manufacturers to reformulate their products to reduce sodium content so as to not have to display the symbol on their products.
But it’s not as easy as simply reducing sodium levels and then selling those products immediately, according to a statement from the Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC).
“It is important to remember, however, that lowering sodium levels in food and beverage products is a complex undertaking, a balance between technical feasibility and consumer acceptance, requiring both time and flexibility to achieve,” the FCPC said in a statement.
Since sodium has many roles in food besides just taste, the lowering of sodium levels could take smaller reductions over time as consumers adapt to the new product.
In the meantime, while Health Canada continues to make efforts to lower the amount of sodium in processed foods, Canadians can be proactive in their diets.
Anar Allidina, a registered dietitian based in Toronto, told Global News to read the labels carefully when grocery shopping. Allidina recommends avoiding foods high in sodium such as chips, soy sauce, and deli meats.
Processed foods with sodium levels above 20 percent are considered high and anything less than five percent is ideal, Allidina said.