Seven-Year Plan Seeks to Reduce Salt Intake in Israel

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Health Ministry has presented a plan to put Israel on a lower-salt diet, Haaretz reported on Monday.

To mark World Health Day on Sunday and the theme for 2013, which was high blood pressure, the Health Ministry released its program to reduce salt intake by 3 grams a day in the average Israeli’s diet within seven years.

The recommendations for adults call for a maximum intake of 3.84 grams of salt a day, or about 1.5 grams of sodium. The absolute upper limit is set at 6.1 grams of salt a day, which translates into 2.4 grams of sodium, about the amount in a teaspoon of salt. Children should consume less salt, the Ministry’s nutrition experts said.

Currently, Israelis consume more salt than is good for them. Recent research shows excess salt intake in Israel and Britain is an estimated 9 grams per day.

Israelis can take small comfort in knowing that daily average intake is about 16 grams in China.

High salt intake is regarded as a risk factor for high blood pressure as well as cardiovascular disease and a risk factor for stroke and kidney dysfunction. Last month, American researchers published a study in the scientific journal Nature showing a connection between the rise in salt consumption in Western countries and a rise in autoimmune diseases, especially multiple sclerosis.

The Health Ministry cited ample scientific evidence that lowered salt consumption correlates with lower blood pressure.

The plan is to slowly reduce the salt content of processed foods in Israel, with a 20 percent  reduction to come within a few months.

The ministry’s plan is not compulsory, but will be based on voluntary cooperation from  food companies, the Manufacturers Association, Israel Chambers of Commerce and the health maintenance organizations. No regulatory laws are being proposed at this stage.

About 75 percent of Israeli salt consumption is through processed foods, only 10 percent comes in natural foods and the remaining 15 percent of salt is added at home either in the cooking process or by passing the salt at the table.

The plan is gradual, changing the taste in foods on a national scale will take time. Ministry officials expect it will take time for Israelis to get used to the less salty taste, so the change is projected for a few percent at a time over a period of years, said Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of Public Health Services in the ministry.