Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Canadians Consume Piles of Salt

Last week media across the country told Canadians that we consume more sodium in the food we eat than any other country in the world. This information comes from a recently released study undertaken by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) .

If you are Canadian and eat out a lot, particularly fast food, you are putting yourself at a higher risk for heart disease than any other country surveyed in the study. International restaurant chains selling burgers, submarine sandwiches and onion rings in Canada contain significantly higher levels of sodium than the same products sold in other countries. Sodium, sugar and fat are used to make poor quality bland ingredients palatable.

In Canada a single serving of onion rings from Burger King contains 620 mg of sodium compared to the 200 mg of sodium found in the same product produced by the chain in Britain. It is estimated that a hamburger from a fast-food restaurant contains about 1,000-mg. Grilled chicken sandwich: 1,250 mg. A single egg roll: 400 mg. One large slice of pizza can come in at more than 1,000 mg of sodium

Many fast food companies say that sodium levels differ from country to country based on preference. Are Canadians asking for more salt? How are these salty taste levels tested? Focus groups? Surverys, research and analysis? Any results they can share with us?

Three of Canada's Networks of Centres of Excellence, The Canadian Stroke Network, the Canadian Obesity Network and the Advanced Foods and Materials Network awarded the second annual national Salt Lick Award this past February to the country’s pizza producers for loading the popular fast-food with blood-pressure raising sodium. The 2009 Salt Lick Award coincided with World Salt Awareness Week an effort by some 20 countries around the world to highlight the excessive amounts of sodium in fast food and restaurant fare.

An adequate daily intake of sodium for most adult Canadians is 1,500 mg or less. 1 level teaspoon of salt contains just over 6 grams of salt. 6 grams of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium.

According to the WASH survey many products found on supermarket shelves contain high levels of sodium. Interestingly these amounts differ from country to country. It appears that sodium levels are highest in Canada and lowest in Britain. Britain initiated an aggressive campaign a few years ago to reduce salt consumption. High levels of salt consumption are linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and are believed to be the leading cause of these diseases.

Processed foods are the main source of sodium Canadians consume and make up the 70% + average daily sodium intake. Only about 15% of our sodium intake comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.

Some food manufacturers claim that it would be extremely costly to reduce sodium in their products because to do so requires a complex product reformulation process. This begs the question: are we not worth the time, effort and money? If what is in their products ultimately kills people are they not to be held responsible? Campbell Soup has reduced sodium in their soup products and launched an aggressive marketing plan. Have we heard them complaining of reduced revenue? Not a peep.

Kellog Canada cereals were identified in the WASH survey as having major variances in sodium levels compared to data from other countries. A 100 gram portion of original Special K contains 931 mg of sodium in Canada, compared to 450 mg in France, Norway, Britain and various other countries.

Dietary sodium contributes to 17,000 cases a year of stroke and heart disease in Canada, says study produced by researchers at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University, co-authored by Dr. Norm Campbell of the Canadian Stroke Network.

“High levels of sodium in fast and prepared foods often go hand-in-hand with higher calories and fat content, adding significant health risks to the equation,” explains Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Scientific Director of the Canadian Obesity Network in a recent press release. “Overweight and obese people have heightened sensitivity to the effects of sodium, and will experience higher increases in blood pressure in response to sodium intake than normal-weight individuals. It is therefore extremely important for people above a healthy weight to limit salt intake in the diet.”

Food label facts compiled by Sodium
- Sodium free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
- Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving.
- Reduced sodium: 25% less sodium than the original product
- Lower in sodium): 25% less sodium content than comparable products (may still be high).
- No added sodium: No salt or sodium was added during processing (may still contain sodium).
- Lightly salted: Contains at least 50% less added sodium than is typically added to comparable products (may still be high).

A high-sodium diet increases blood pressure and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and dementia. High sodium consumption has also been linked to osteoporosis, asthma, stomach cancer and obesity.

Health Canada's Working Group on Dietary Sodium Reduction met in Ottawa in February 2009 to begin development of a strategy to lower sodium content in the diets of Canadians. The strategy will include education and voluntary reductions of sodium levels in processed foods and research.

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