Consumers who purchase prepackaged foods are more susceptible to intaking high amounts of sodium. People usually don’t go around counting their sodium intake as excessively as they do calories or fat, however too much sodium can indeed be just as harmful. Sodium is a key public health commitment for the Government of Canada, which is why they worked with a variety of sectors in this Symposium to discuss opportunities to reduce sodium.
Excessive amounts of sodium have been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), which is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. The average adult should not be consuming more than 2300mg of sodium per day, which equates to about one teaspoon of salt.
In order to help consumers better understand their sodium intake, there needs to be better nutrition labeling tools and warning labels. Furthermore, to lower sodium consumption, there needs to be more regulations in place to limit portion sizes and restrict the marketing of high sodium foods to children. Consumers play a powerful role in urging the food industry to reduce the sodium content of foods, but they can only do this through increased nutritional education.
To help, Health Canada is updating regulatory requirements for the Nutrition Fact table that is mandatory on most prepackaged foods in Canada and provides information on 12 core nutrients, including sodium. These changes are intended to help consumers understand the sodium content of their foods. Have you ever seen Daily Value (%DV) and not know what that means? Well Health Canada’s nutrition label changes include adding a footnote explaining the percent Daily Value to help consumers understand which foods contribute to “a little” or “a lot” of their daily sodium. Beginning this year, Health Canada plans on more comprehensive monitoring of sodium levels in prepackaged foods. For sodium products with more than 15% daily value are considered high, and should be eaten infrequently and in limited quantities while foods with less than 5% daily value can be considered low and ‘healthy’ from the perspective of dietary sodium.
Reductions in dietary sodium is one of the most cost effective means of improving population health, and could result in an estimated 32% reduction in the prevalence of hypertension in Canada.
Moving forward, more work around monitoring and reporting high levels of sodium is required. Further consumer education and engagement is important to encourage industry and government to work to lower the sodium content in foods.