The government-owned Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries Company cut the salt content of its flatbreads by 10% in 2013, and increased the reduction to 20% this year, along with expanding the reduction to cover other bread products. It plans to cut salt by another 10% within the next 18 months.
Targeting government bakeries
The Kuwaiti health ministry’s Salt and Fat Intake Reduction Task Force (SIRTF), along with the Food and Nutrition Administration, identified bread as a good starting point, thanks to the market dominance of the government-owned bakery. The company produces more than 3 million flatbreads a day, along with other bread products.
“This is a great example of commitment and collaboration between related sectors and an even greater example of partnership,” said Dr Nawal Al-hamad, chair of SIRTF and director of the Food and Nutrition Administration at the country’s Ministry of Health.
In common with other GCC countries, Kuwait has a serious problem with high blood pressure among its population. Government figures from 2010 revealed a quarter of Kuwaitis aged 20 to 49, and 60% of Kuwaiti men over 50, suffered from hypertension.
Triple salt intake
The Ministry of Health identified high salt intake as a major factor behind the elevated rates of high blood pressure, due to salt’s sodium content. On average Kuwaitis consume 12-15 grams of salt a day, up to three times the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Reducing salt intake to less than five grams per person per day can prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in the world today,” said Dr Ala Alwan, the WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Salt reduction is one of the strategic interventions in the regional framework for action on non-communicable diseases , endorsed by ministers of health in this region. Implementing salt reduction programmes can help countries achieve the global target for salt reduction,” he added.
While bread is not an obvious source of excess salt, its role as a staple food consumed in large amounts makes it a significant contributor to people’s salt intake, according to the WHO. The organisation says around 80% of dietary salt comes from processed foods.
Following the success of its salt reduction programme in bread, Kuwait’s SIRTF plans to focus on cutting salt in cheese, according to a WHO report. Fellow GCC states Qatar and Bahrain are also working on similar programmes.