From 30 June 2016 South Africans will be eating less salt, as new legislation to reduce salt in processed foods comes into effect.
Added during manufacturing
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), which provided the bulk of the information in this article, is very concerned about the fact that South Africans eat on average double the recommended daily salt limit of 5 grams a day. Most of this salt does not come from what consumers add themselves, but rather from what is added during manufacturing.
Excess salt intake can increase hypertension, thereby contributing to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease. From today South Africans will eat a little less salt as legislation comes into effect to reduce the salt content of commonly consumed foods.
Most salt is hidden in everyday foods. On average, 4 slices of bread provide 1.6 grams or a quarter teaspoon of salt per day – a third of the recommended maximum. A portion of sausage or boerewors can provide 2.5 grams of salt. Even sweet breakfast cereals can bump up salt intake by another gram. Surprised? Consumers can use www.saltcalculator.co.za to find out where the salt in their diet comes from.
Three-year wait finally over
The amendment to the foodstuff regulations was published in the Government Gazette in March 2013. A three year implementation period was granted to allow time for manufacturers to experiment with reformulation and produce lower salt products that are still acceptable to consumers. From 30 June 2016 manufacturers need to stick with new salt levels.
Health Minister Motsoaledi’s ground-breaking bill imposes maximum salt level targets for a basket of commonly consumed foods. Foods affected includes bread, breakfast cereal, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks. Each of these food categories has an individual target to be achieved in 2016, and another stricter limit that needs to be met by 2019.
Will brands be ready?
The big question is whether companies are on target to meet the deadline and if the foods on our shelves are actually lower in salt. Sibonile Dube, Corporate Affairs Director for Unilever SA says, “All our products being manufactured, post June 2016, will be 100% compliant to the salt regulations. There will still be some older stock in circulation, but we can assure consumers that we have met these targets.”
Le-Anne Engelbrecht, brand manager at SASKO breads, echoes this response: “SASKO has been hard at work to align with the required salt regulations and is well on track to meet the sodium targets within the specified deadline.”
While legislation is an important step, it will not completely resolve our excess salt intake. South African consumers add on average 4 grams of salt to food at home. This alone nearly meets the World Health Organisation’s maximum limit of 5 grams or 1 teaspoon per day. There are also many foods that are not included in the legislation. Salted peanut butter contains 800 times more salt than the unsalted variety.
Foods affected by legislation like potato chips and processed meats will still be very salty even after target levels have been met. Not forgetting takeout – a fried chicken or burger meal provides double to triple our daily intake, sometimes even more. Consumers should read food labels to compare products and demand less salty products. All foods with the Heart Mark logo have been evaluated and are lower salt options. Of course our responsibility doesn’t end whilst shopping – adding less salt whilst cooking and at the table is just as important.
The following tips from Dr Ingrid van Heerden (until recently Health24's DietDoc) can help you shake your salt habit:
- If possible don’t add any table salt to foods you cook at home. Commercially prepared foods will already contain some salt/sodium, so you don’t need to add any during the cooking process.
- Do not cover each dish you eat with a crust of salt to make it look like the Alps in winter. Start the reduction process gradually, so that you and your taste buds get used to the lower salt levels. If you go from 1 teaspoon of salt per dish per day to a zero salt intake, you will find it particularly difficult to adjust to the change in taste. But if you consciously add a bit less salt to your foods every 2nd or 3rd day, then you will be able to educate your taste buds over a period of a few weeks to accept this change in eating habits.
- Avoid foods that have a high salt/sodium content due to processing. Cured and pickled foods and relishes contain very large quantities of salt, so products like bacon, ham, processed meats, salted dried fish, anchovies, atchar, pickles, etc, are loaded with salt.
- Avoid condiments and flavouring aids that contain salt or sodium - read those labels and if you are unsure, rather avoid the use of products like stock cubes, meat extract, etc.
- Check that you are not ingesting sodium via medications or toothpaste. Medicinal products are often a ‘hidden’ source of sodium.
- Be creative when cooking and use fresh herbs, as well as spices that don’t contain salt/sodium (e.g. pepper, chillies, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, etc), or lemon juice to add flavour to your dishes.
Bertram et al. reducing the sodium content of high-salt foods: Effect on cardiovascular disease in South Africa. S Afr Med J 2012;102(9):743-745. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.5832
For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (43278) or visit www.heartfoundation.co.za.