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Canadians ‘overwhelmingly’ support salt reduction initiatives

McDonald's french fries sit under a heat lamp during a one-day hiring event at a McDonald's restaurant on April 19;2011 in San Francisco;California.
McDonald's french fries sit under a heat lamp during a one-day hiring event at a McDonald's restaurant on April 19;2011 in San Francisco;California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TORONTO — Force the food industry to lower salt levels in products. Slap warning labels on foods that exceed healthy salt intake. And develop policies that ban too much salt in meals served in daycares, schools and nursing homes.

Those are just a handful of salt reduction strategies Canadians say they “overwhelmingly” support, according to a new study.

University of Toronto and University of Guelph researchers polled more than 2,600 Canadians across the country to get a pulse on where residents stand on salt reduction policies.

Turns out, more than 80 per cent are throwing their support behind government intervention to reduce salt intake. Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians also have salt on their radar — especially older people and those with high blood pressure.

“The takeaway message is really that Canadians are concerned. They’re trying to limit their sodium intake and they are generally highly supportive of the government and other bodies to assist them in lowering their sodium consumption,” JoAnne Arcand told Global News.

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Arcand is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s nutritional sciences department. Her team’s findings, led by Mary R. L’Abbe, will be published in the May issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

Canadians supportive of handful of salt reduction plans:

Results from the survey showed that Canadians on “very high level” support a variety of interventions. They’re on board with:

— Forcing the food industry to lower the amount of sodium added to the products
— Creating maximum levels of salt allowed in packaged goods, restaurant fare and grocery store items
— Adding warning labels to foods that are high in sodium, such as processed meats or canned goods
— Developing maximum levels of salt in food served in daycares, schools, hospitals and nursing homes

There was little support for implementing a “salt tax” in which customers would have to pay more for sodium-ridden foods. Subsidizing lower sodium foods also wasn’t an option Canadians were supportive of.

These financial incentives and disincentives only garnered 30 per cent of Canadians’ support.

Right now, data suggests that Canadians are consuming too much of the unhealthy seasoning, reaching levels of up to 3,400 mg a day. That’s nearly double what daily intake of salt should be. This overdose increases risk of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

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Only 16 per cent of Canadians even knew what Health Canada’s recommended intake for sodium was — 1,500 mg per day to a maximum of 2,300 mg.

The results suggest that Canadians are cognizant of their unhealthy habits, though: about half of respondents said they’re actively limiting their sodium intake.

Ottawa’s sodium working group

The federal government has been trying to carve out initiatives to tackle salt. Ottawa’s own government-appointed Sodium Working Group developed a formal set of recommendations that included a three-prong approach: education and awareness, food industry intervention and continued research in the field.

Its ultimate goal is to lower the amount of salt Canadians eat from an average of 3,400 mg a day to 2,300 mg a day by 2016.

The study notes, however, that similar projects launched in the United Kingdom and Australia weren’t successful.

Restaurant foods, packaged goods both sodium bombs, research suggests

Canadians’ reliance on sit-down meals in restaurants and prepacked meals to go are a major culprit hurting our diets.

Restaurant meals may even be worse than fast food, a study released earlier this month by Arcand and her team noted. Those findings showed that a single fast food meal, with entrée, side dish and drink, made up an adult’s daily salt intake.

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“Part of this is related to serving size. It’s also related to the addition of higher-sodium condiments such as dressings and cheese and all of the yummy things that go into restaurant foods,” Arcand explained.

The other trouble Canadians have is navigating the grocery store. The variety of low sodium options are limited.

A general guideline for selecting a lower sodium food is to aim for products with less than 15 per cent of your day’s sodium intake. Anything five per cent and below is considered a low sodium option, meanwhile anything 15 per cent or higher should be avoided.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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