Did you know that 77% of the sodium in our diet comes from processed food? According to Health Canada, 80% of Canadians are eating too much sodium which can lead to hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. While sodium has been recognized as a public health issue for over a decade now, food manufacturers have been working to lower the sodium content of processed foods by the end of 2016 using Health Canada’s voluntary sodium reduction targets. Were their efforts good enough?
Background: In 2012, Health Canada published interim sodium targets (known as Phase I, Phase II and Phase III targets) for various categories of food. Food manufacturers had until the end of 2016 to reduce the sodium content of their foods to meet these target levels. This three phase approach was designed to encourage gradual sodium reductions while still maintaining product safety, quality and consumer acceptance of the food’s taste. The goal of these targets was to lower Canadians’ sodium intakes from 3,400 mg/day to under 2,300 mg/day without requiring consumers to actively choose lower sodium foods.
Evaluation Results: Last year, Health Canada evaluated the food industry’s efforts to meet these sodium reduction targets and recently reported the findings:
– 28% of food categories met Phase I sodium reduction targets (e.g. breads, crackers, hot instant cereals, canned vegetables and legumes)
– 10% of food categories met Phase II reduction targets (e.g. cookies, ready-to-eat cereals, vegetable juices)
– 14% of food categories met Phase III sodium reduction targets (e.g. cottage cheese, bacon bits, tomato paste, toddler mixed dishes)
– 48% of food categories did not make any progress in sodium reduction (e.g. dry cured and fermented deli meats, refrigerated and frozen appetizers and entrées, frozen potatoes).
Recommendations & Next Steps: This evaluation report show that modest sodium reductions have been made in most categories of processed foods. While these reductions will still help Canadians consume less sodium, the results were overall disappointing to Health Canada. Voluntary targets may not be strong enough to reduce sodium in our food supply. A more structured voluntary approach may be needed. Other options include a regular sodium-monitoring program and public reduction commitments by manufacturers.
Health Canada plans to conduct an in-depth analysis of each food category and meet with industry stakeholders and scientific expert to better understand the challenges around food safety, shelf life and functional roles faced during efforts to reduce sodium.
With the proposed new front of pack labelling regulations, packaged foods high in sodium, sugars, and / or saturated fat will be identified with a specific icon or symbol. This new regulation will up the pressure for further sodium reductions in food. Sodium will also be a key consideration when Health Canada introduces new regulations to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids.
Are you ready to reduce the sodium content of your products? Would you like to share your sodium reduction success story with consumers and media? We can help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.