Health Ministry vows to reduce salt content in food

Less sodium in processed foods may be a step toward significantly cutting it from the national diet.

April 23, 2010 04:15
3 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

sodium label 311. (photo credit: Bloomberg)


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Within a year, Israelis will be able to buy processed food with less salt, according to estimates by the Health Ministry, which has joined the worldwide effort – promoted by the World Health Organization – to significantly cut sodium from the national diet.

Minimizing salt in the diet – three-quarters of which comes from processed food and the rest from the salt shaker – will reduce significantly the prevalence of hypertension, which is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

Excessive sodium consumption causes the accumulation of more salt and water than one’s kidneys can deal with and increases the blood volume, exerting excess fluid pressure on blood vessel walls. These react to such stress by thickening and narrowing, leaving less space for the fluid, raising “resistance” and requiring higher pressure to move blood to the bodily organs. The heart pumping harder over years increases the risk of disease.

Dr. Ziva Stahl, head of the ministry’s nutrition service, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that in the past few months, she has begun meetings with MK Orit Noked, who is deputy minister in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, on the issue.

She hopes that the government will initiate legislation to reduce the amount of salt in each category of processed food, but noted that it “would have to be gradual, as people acquire a salt habit and find it difficult to stop cold. If suddenly food is without salt, they won’t buy it, as it will seem tasteless.”

But when asked by the Post whether there could be no-salt versions of food immediately for those who already do not eat salt and gradual reduced-salt versions for people who have to be weaned off it, she said it was a “good idea.”

When told by the Post that Kadima MK Rachel Adato, a physician by profession, has begun preparing a private member’s bill to require the reduction of salt in processed foods, Stahl said she had not heard of it but would be happy to cooperate with the MK on the effort.

Stahl said the food companies have a “positive attitude” toward salt reduction. Since the 1990s, there has been a requirement to list the amount of sodium in processed foods, but she concedes that labels that announce “no salt” or “reduced salt” versions are preferable. The ministry, she added, plans an information campaign in the media to explain to the public why they are better off consuming less salt, she said.

Israelis, who still eat many more fresh fruits and vegetables than Americans, are less dependent on cans of processed foods, according to Stahl. But it is inevitable that kosher meat has more sodium, because salting to remove blood is part of the process of making it kosher. Even after rinsing it, not all of the salt can be removed, she said.

It took Finland 30 years to pass legislation to reduce sodium in processed food, Stahl said. “I hope we can reduce salt consumption in Israel much faster than in Finland. Both laws and voluntary agreements with the industry are needed.”

As for sugar, companies have already begun to reduce the amount in their processed food, and there is a growing market for no-sugar products for dieters and diabetics. The ministry previously began to encourage sugar and fat reduction to help fight obesity.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post revealed earlier this week that the US Food and Drug Administration is planning an “unprecedented effort” to gradually reduce the salt consumed by Americans. The FDA aims at the first legal limits on the amount of sodium allowed in processed foods, from breads and snacks to soup powders and canned food.

The aim, said the newspaper, was to “gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.”

It quoted one source as saying: “This is a 10-year program. This is not rolling off a log. We’re talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We’re talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people.”

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