A sensible approach to cutting salt in processed and fast food - Macleans.ca

A sensible approach to cutting salt in processed and fast food

Demanding better food labelling does not amount to nanny-state control


Kevin Dooley/Flickr

The Canadian Medical Association Journal’s new report on relatively high salt levels in Canadian fast food, in a comparison of six countries, should prompt new questions about why on earth Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq last year disbanded a group established in 2007 to tackle this health issue.

The federal Sodium Working group was on course to push for some modest, but practical measures, like requiring standardized labelling to allow consumers to more easily figure out how much salt processed food products contain. It was monitoring how well food companies performed when it came to reducing salt. This was hardly heavy-handed intervention.

Yet Aglukkaq seemed to think the working group went too far, and instead proposed a vague policy of “working with industry and other organizations.” CBC reports here that the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association would prefer consumer education and gradual salt reductions to avoid having folks suddenly find their burgers too bland (I paraphrase).

I agree that slapping mandatory salt-content regulations on the processed food and restaurant industries would be going too far. But what would be wrong with a combination of easy-to-understand labelling, plainly worded Health Canada recommendations for sodium reductions, and reliable monitoring and reporting on which companies are following sensible guidelines and which aren’t?

That’s more or less what the Sodium Working Group wanted. Here’s a summary of recommendations from its 2010 report, which do not amount to nanny-state control, but merely a an approach that emphasizes targets and transparency:

  • a structured voluntary reduction of sodium levels in processed food products and foods sold in restaurant and food service establishments;
  • education and awareness of consumers, industry, health professionals and other key stakeholders; and
  • research.

Integral to the strategy are monitoring and evaluation.
The SWG has recommended a voluntary, structured approach to reduce sodium content in foods, involving:

  • published sodium reduction targets for foods;
  • defined timelines;
  • a mechanism for public commitment by industry to the targets;
  • a plan for monitoring progress by a body other than the food industry; and
  • a plan for independent evaluation of the success of the program with the option of taking stronger measures as necessary depending on progress
There’s been no clear explanation from the federal government as to why this strategy was deemed too aggressive to follow. It’s possible the thrust will now shift to the provincial level, as suggested at a so-called salt summit held a couple of months ago in Toronto.








A sensible approach to cutting salt in processed and fast food

  1. Scientific American ~ It’s Time To End War On Salt: 

    For decades, policy makers have tried and failed to get Americans to eat less salt. In April 2010 the Institute of Medicine urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers put into products; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already convinced 16 companies to do so voluntarily. But if the U.S. does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily.

    This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

    Fears over salt first surfaced more than a century ago. In 1904 French doctors reported that six of their subjects who had high blood pressure—a known risk factor for heart disease—were salt fiends.

  2. As any road warrior who is on a low salt diet knows, you can order “no seasoning” on any burger at most fast food places, like A&W, McDonalds etc. They claim their hamburger patties come without any salt and that it is added during the cooking process. Sometimes it takes a little longer for the order, but if you want low salt, you can get it. 

  3. What does Danielle Smith think ?

  4. Our current minister of health is a disgrace and should resign!  She consistently sides with industry to the detriment of taxpayers and the nation’s health.  Under her watch we are seeing the food inspection system gutted and meat inspection decimated. Recommendations by health experts are ignored and the government’s own scientists are gagged. She is an embarrassment! 

    • I agree with you; she is a disappointment.  Just a patsy, really, but what I find most shameful is that she, an Aboriginal woman, is at the forefront of all the cuts being made to aboriginal health institutes.  How can she face herself in the mirror?

  5. Being a diabetic and concerned about salt intake and the high content in any procesed food, I find Tony’s link a little hard to swallow. Heart attacks and strokes have been linked to high salt intake and the resulting high bp levels for many years and many studies. Our canadian tax dollars pay  for all the consequences ,  reducing salt intake has proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular illness, period . It all comes down to dollars and cents. Force all companies  to reduce the sodium content in all processed food and the country will save money on health related costs , with no detrement to the bottom line of the manufactrures of these products. The cost to our health care system is astounding for heart related illness, according to stats can 1/3 of all health care costs are for heart related complications . People will still buy fast food regardless of the salt  content because it has become part of our daily life, and total ignorance of how much salt that we consume.  Health Canada has really missed the mark on this issue.    Most people are not even aware of how much salt that they eat per day , it wasn’t until I started counting my sodium intake that I realised how much I was eating, it was around 4500 per day. I am now down to 1500-2000 per day and feel great  Just think, 1 macdonalds chipolte burger has 2020 mgs of sodium. Do you think anyone knows this ? As consumers we should be protected from this sort of garbage that is slowly killing us, and our children. Unless you are on a salt restricted diet you would assume that all the food that you buy would be safe.. This is not the case .Thats just wrong..There should be a health warning when buying one of these and any other high sodium food product , at least a consumer could make an educated choice . I believe that any product that conatains anything over 500mgs per 100 grms should be labelled as high sodium content on the front label and posted in restaurants and fast food establishments.