Salt is such an inevitable part of our daily food intake. Nobody likes to eat their food without salt.
But most of us don’t realize how much salt, also referred to as sodium, we have consumed in a given day. The World Health Organization (WHO) says even a little increase in daily sodium intake can be dangerous to health.
Releasing a fresh set of benchmarks for sodium levels in 60 food categories, the WHO said that despite its recommendation to limit daily salt intake to 5 grams, most people across the world consume double that amount, increasing the risk of developing heart diseases and strokes.
Why a new benchmark?
The WHO aims to reduce global sodium salt intake by 30 percent by 2025. It says consumption of processed food is rapidly increasing daily sodium intake across the world and these foods contain different amounts of sodium in different countries. The new, harmonized benchmarks will act as a guide for countries and industry to reduce the sodium content in various categories of processed foods.
What does the benchmark say?
It outlines the maximum recommended sodium content in different categories of packaged and processed food like packaged bread, savory snacks, meat products and cheese.
According to the benchmarks, potato chips, the usual snack in most households, should contain a maximum of 500 mg of sodium per 100 gm. While sodium intake via a pie or pastries should not cross 120 mg, for processed meats it is 340 mg.
The need to reduce salt intake
High sodium consumption, mainly through salt, and insufficient potassium intake contribute to high blood pressure. Salt intake of less than 5 grams per day for adults helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, coronary heart attack and kidney problems.
The WHO says an estimated 25 lakh deaths could be prevented annually if global salt consumption were reduced to the level it recommended. Heart diseases and strokes claim an estimated 30 lakh lives annually.
In a statement announcing the release of the benchmarks, the WHO cited data from the UK, where voluntary targets for food manufacturers decreased adult salt consumption by nearly 15 percent between 2003 and 2011, to say target-setting for food categories can achieve meaningful results.
The study has come at the right time to draw attention to the vital issue, given the focus on health systems across the world due the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO said these new benchmarks are being released during a decisive year for food and nutrition policy as the UN Food Systems Summit is scheduled in September and the Nutrition for Growth Summit will be held in December.