If you notice that the bread you buy is less salty than you’re used to, and gets even less so as the months go by, there is nothing wrong with your taste buds. Four major bakeries have agreed to the Health Ministry’s request to gradually reduce the amount of sodium in their unsliced and sliced standard loaves, to lower the risk of high blood pressure among their customers.

The Angel, Berman, Deganit Ein Bar and Davidovich bakeries have started to minimize salt in their bread as part of the Efsharibari (“it’s possible to be healthy”) program of the Health and Education ministries and for an active and healthy life. The four are the first group of bakeries that voluntarily agreed to the suggestion, with others expected to join them.

The “staff of life” – bread – is one of the most widely eaten types of food, and when it has large amounts of salt, it poses health dangers. According to the ministry, Israelis are among the highest consumers of salt – either added at meals to food, used in cooking or contained in processed food – in the world.

Public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto explained that “overconsumption of salt is one of the major factors causing hypertension. In addition, there is also a link between sodium consumption and osteoporosis, kidney stones and even stomach cancer. In recent years, we at the ministry have been asking large companies in the food industry to reduce their salt content voluntarily and not through regulations and legislation. Happily, with increased public interest in their health, a significant number of Israeli companies are cooperating.”

Ministry clinical dietitian Rona Sheffer, who coordinates the sodium-reduction program, said that Israeli adults eat foods with nine grams of sodium daily – 50 percent more than recommended (about 6 grams a day). Children and teens have an even greater salt intake – as much as 12 grams daily. To counter this, Sheffer said, “we divided the food market into 11 main categories, with bread one of them. In each category, we set a target for reducing sodium.”

This target is to change gradually over several years, the ministry said, so as to help consumers, who might reject food with significantly less salt than they are used to, to become accustomed to the change. In the first stage, which started in December 2013, 100 grams of bread (between three to four slices) were allowed to have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium. December of each year will see a 20-milligram reduction of that maximum, until it reaches 400 milligrams at the end of 2017.

The ministry lags behind some Western countries in other food-related issues. For instance, Israel does not force supermarkets and groceries to post signs stating which unwrapped bread and rolls contain genuine whole-grained flour and how much. At present, many such baked goods are colored brown with unhealthful caramel (burnt sugar).

In addition, contrary to the practice for decades in many countries, the ministry does not yet require dairy companies to add vitamin D to basic milk products. (Only 1%-fat milk and high-priced special milk have it.) It does not require the addition of iodine to table salt, even though this reduces thyroid disease and protects the body against various intellectual and developmental disabilities, or the addition of folic acid to baked goods, which minimizes the risk of neural tube defects in infants. The ministry said that some of these changes were “in the works.”

Meanwhile, the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee approved a new regulation on Monday that requires food packages containing objects such as toys to be separated with special wrapping and a highly visible printed warning outside urging parental supervision. In addition, if it’s a toy, there must be a warning stating that it isn’t made in a way that endangers health. The regulation will go into effect within 120 days and enable the import and export of additional products to and from Europe.

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