Public health project works to reduce salt consumption, promote better nutrition, healthy lifestyle

Government ministries fail to renew future budget, put Efsharbari health project at risk.

Salt (illustrative). (photo credit: REUTERS)
Salt (illustrative).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
You might not have noticed, but in the last two years you have cut the amount of salt that you eat.
A joint Health, Education and Culture Ministries project called Efsharibari (“Health is Possible”) has quietly persuaded food manufacturers to gradually cut the sodium chloride in their products, and it will be reduced even more in the next five years.
Efsharibari has been focused on information and educational projects – including via social networks – to promote better nutrition, more exercise and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.
However, despite its claimed success, the Education and Culture Ministries previously halted their funding, and now the Health Ministry has not renewed Efsharibari’s budget of NIS 25 million over three years (2012 through 2014) – so the whole project will end in a few months, unless a new government (and finance and health ministers) decides to change its priorities.
The salt-reduction program alone affected bread, processed meats, frozen poultry and meat, salads, roasted nuts and other snacks, pickled and canned food and even the amount of salt used to make poultry and meat “kosher,” but of course did not reduce the amount of salt people shook from their salt shakers.
Health Ministry public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto said in Tel Aviv on Monday that about 32 countries around the world were implementing programs to reduce the consumption of table salt.
In January 2013, Efsharibari began its project to cut salt consumption and thereby reduce the risk of hypertension, strokes and cardiovascular disease. He added that the ministries decided to start with cutting sodium chloride rather than sugar, or trans and saturated fat, because the danger of excess salt was “less known” among the public.
The food manufacturers insisted that the salt reduction be carried out gradually over years so the public would get used to it; if not, they argued, “they will not find the products tasty.” By 2020, the average consumption of salt from processed foods will be 6 gr. daily per person, down from 9 gr. two years ago.
The Health Ministry appointed Rona Scheffer, a clinical dietitian with experience working with the food industry to lead the project. Not only did she make the rounds among food companies and the rabbinate, but two food technologists also checked samples of the foods to ensure that the amount of salt had been reduced as promised.
Asked to comment on the elimination of the budget and why it could not run at least part of Efsharibari from inside its own nutrition department, the ministry spokeswoman had no comment.
Nutrition department head Dr. Ronit Endevelt said that Israelis’ palates have become inured to a lot of salt in their foods, so they add more because their tongues’ receptors are less sensitive to it. Three-quarters of salt consumption comes from processed foods; 10 percent is found naturally in food; and the remaining 15% reaches the body from salt shakers.
In addition to the Health Ministry, the IDF, the Israel Dietitians’ Association, the Israel Police, hospitals, schools, Israel Prison Service and the four public health funds have joined the effort to minimize the consumption of sodium chloride.
So far, 11 bakery companies have been awarded the right to put Efsharibari stickers on their produce, to boast that they have cut the amount of salt in their breads and other baked goods.