According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the average Canadian consumes 3,092mg of sodium each day, although the government’s recommended intake is 1,500mg, and no more than 2,300mg a day.
The Working Group’s sodium reduction strategy, nearly three years in the making, is set to be released in July and will look to industry to meet voluntary reduction targets set according to food categories. The targets are intended to bring the average Canadian’s daily sodium intake down to 2,300mg by 2016, based on a five percent reduction per year.
The draft targets include sodium content in most breads at a maximum of 400mg per 100g; cheddar cheeses at 720mg per 100g; and pates and spreads at 600mg per 100g.
The 25-member Working Group is led by Health Canada, but also includes health researchers, non-government organizations, food manufacturing trade bodies, and government.
Taking inspiration from the UK
The voluntary target model is based on a similar strategy in place in the UK. There, government has been working with industry since 2003 to create voluntary sodium targets for specific foods. As a result, it is estimated that sodium intake has declined by 9.5 percent.
Dr. Rickey Yada is scientific director of the Advanced Foods and Materials Network and a professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph who is working with the CIHR to develop innovative ways to reduce sodium in foods. He provided the Sodium Working Group with a food science perspective.
He said: “In working with policy makers, I think success for us will be [to generate] an appreciation of the notion that one size does not fit all. So to make a blanket statement that we need an x percent reduction of sodium for all products is probably not useful, because we're going to have to look at different products individually."
However, some health experts have suggested that the proposed targets do not go far enough.
Director of research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Dr. Marco Di Buono was quoted by the Toronto Star as saying: “The targets that have been set for some of these core food stuffs that represent the bulk of sodium intake from prepackaged foods is in some cases only a 20 per cent reduction. We need to go much further than the proposed targets if we are going to ultimately have an average sodium intake for all Canadians that is considered safe and healthy.”
It is estimated that about 70 to 80 percent of Canadians’ sodium intake comes from processed foods.