Reducing Sodium in Food
Sodium reduction is a shared responsibility amongst food industry, Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) governments, and consumers. FPT governments recognize that the Canadian food industry has already initiated sodium reduction in processed and packaged food products available for sale in Canada. Health Canada has developed a guidance document to provide further direction to the food industry to continue sodium reduction efforts and help Canadians achieve the average sodium intake goal of 2300 mg per day by 2016.
Canadians and Sodium: Knowledge and Behaviour
Most Canadians are aware that high sodium intake is a health concern but do not consider it their own problem. Very few understand what a healthy amount of sodium is, and most continue to have high sodium intakes. Although many have decided not to put salt on the table and in cooking, they continue to buy high sodium, processed foods. Awareness and education is a priority.
In a 2009 large-scale national survey, Tracking Nutrition Trends (TNT): A 20-Year History, the majority of respondents believed that the Canadian diet was too high in sodium, but less than half were aware of how much sodium was "too much".
Public opinion research contracted by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that Canadians were aware that the population's sodium consumption was high but believe that they were doing well compared to others. Canadians seemed to understand well the relationship between high sodium intake and high blood pressure. However, when asked what they were doing to reduce their sodium intake, they often reported limiting the use of the salt shaker rather than reducing their consumption of processed food.
In the 2008 TNT Survey, respondents were asked to rank the importance of 12 attributes that they might consider when selecting food. Of the attributes listed, "the food is low in salt/sodium" was one of the top four selected. Despite the indication that sodium content influences food choices, relatively few Canadians appear to be making an effort to reduce sodium intake. Similar to previous TNT surveys, in 2008 about six out of 10 respondents reported that they had made an effort to change their eating habits over the previous year. The most notable change was that 27% of people reported eating more fruits and vegetables, 17% said they ate less fat, 17% reported eating more whole grains/fibre, 15% reduced their sugar intake, and 14% said they reduced their calorie intake. Only 12% reported that they had tried to reduce their salt intake.
Raising awareness that sodium is an issue for most individuals is important. Messages should inform consumers that Canadians are eating too much sodium, that sodium can have a negative impact on health, and identify the main food sources of sodium.
Visit the Educational Tools and Key Messages section for more information.
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