Strategies to reduce sodium in populations should “force industry compliance” through government regulations and laws, according to an editorial in Nutrition.
The editorial criticises the Canadian government’s sodium reduction strategies – based on voluntary guidelines – claiming that it will not produce large enough reductions in population sodium intake.
“The authors of Canada’s “sodium reduction strategy” appear to believe that a strategy – voluntary action by industry – that achieved a 10 per cent decrease in sodium in the United Kingdom in 7 years can somehow produce a 32 per cent decrease in Canada in 6 years,” said Dr Norman J. Temple, Professor of Nutrition at Athabasca University, the author of the editorial.
Although Prof Temple focuses on the example of the Canadian sodium reduction scheme in his editorial, he says that forced compliance through government regulations are the only effective way to reduce sodium levels, are “equally valid” for other countries.
Excessive sodium intake has been repeatedly linked to conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular diseases, and as such schemes to reduce salt levels in the diet and processed foods have been given high priority.
Regulations or voluntary
Prof Temple said that in the past campaigns relating to food safety and public health have forced industry compliance through the using laws or government regulations, whilst other campaigns have used a purely voluntary approach.
“A brief examination of such campaigns shows that the former approach achieves far greater success than the latter. This is, of course, to be expected,” he said.
Temple argues that various campaigns conducted over the years have forced industry to reformulate products to protect public health. He cites the specific examples of lead reduction in the U.S and trans-fatty acid reduction in Denmark.
“The problem of lead pollution is an excellent illustration of what can be achieved by a regulatory approach. In the 1970s regulations implemented by the American government mandated major decreases or removal of lead from various products, such as gasoline, paint, and water … This policy achieved great success: from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the blood lead level of the average American child decreased by more than 75 per cent,” said Temple.
A similar example is provided in the case of trans-fatty acids in foods in Denmark: “The country passed laws that resulted, over the previous decade, in the virtual elimination of these fats from food sold in Denmark,” he argued.
Temple said that whilst the 10 per cent reduction seen in the U.K through voluntary actions is a good start, he argued that such schemes can not produce big enough reductions in salt levels.
The food industry has repeatedly drawn attention to the technical difficulties associated with reducing salt levels in foods, where issues do not just relate to taste, but to functional properties of salts in foods such its texture or acting as a preservative.
Salt reduction without impacting sensory or safety properties of products requires considerable R&D.
Recent research has identified potential sodium replacers, including potassium , soy sauce extract , and bamboo salt ; whilst techniques to boost salt flavour and perceived intensities have also been developed to combat the problem of reducing salt levels in foods.
In May 2010, Canada launched a sodium reduction strategy. The Canadian report states its goal as striving for an average intake of 1,500 mg of sodium per day – a target that Temple said is “commendable”.
However, the primary aim of the strategy is to decrease the average intake of sodium by 32 per cent over the next six years. A target that Temple refers to in his editorial as “quite modest and is still well above an ideal level.”
He said that the chosen strategy, of reducing sodium through voluntary industry actions, “is unlikely to achieve major success.”
However, he added that stricter regulations on sodium levels in processed foods could make it “perfectly feasible to decrease the sodium intake of the average Canadian to 1500 mg/d (a decrease of 56 per cent from current levels) within 2 years.”
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2010.10.009
“Population strategies to reduce sodium intake: The right way and the wrong way”
Author: N.J. Temple