The world is consuming too much salt- more than twice the amount recommended by health officials, to be exact.
Where a person’s daily salt intake should be five grams per day or a teaspoon, the global average is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day.
The finding, contained in a recent report from the World Health Organization, paints a troubling picture, given high sodium intake is a top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths.
Sodium isn’t all bad, though. Consumed in the right amounts, it is an essential nutrient for the body. It helps the body to balance fluids and electrolytes, maintaining the health of the kidneys, heart, and blood pressure. Sodium is also known to play a role in enzyme operations, muscle contraction, osmoregulation, fluid maintenance, and glucose absorption. The problem the World Health Organization underscores, is over-consumption.
“More evidence is emerging documenting links between high sodium intake and increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney disease,” the WHO says.
As it stands, the world is off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025.
While diet largely relies on personal responsibility, global governments have a critical role in shaping consumption habits.
“Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated seven million lives globally by 2030. It is an important component of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases,” the WHO states.
Where does Trinidad and Tobago find itself in the global conversation?
Well, according to the report, Trinidad and Tobago is among a grouping of 73 per cent member states that lack the full range of implementation of policies to drive down sodium intake.
On a four-tiered scorecard to assess countries’ preventative measures, Trinidad and Tobago has a score one rating, meaning it has only a national policy commitment towards sodium reduction.
The highest tier, Score 4, shows countries with at least two mandatory measures to reduce sodium, mandatory sodium declaration on all pre-packaged food, and at the same time all four WHO sodium-related best buys.
For comparison, the report identifies only nine countries as having a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake- Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay.
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits. WHO calls on all countries to implement the ‘Best Buys’ for sodium reduction, and on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at the WHO.
The World Health Organization identifies these ‘best buys’ as the following strategies:
Reformulating foods to contain less salt, and setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and mealsEstablishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homesFront-of-package labelling that helps consumers select products lower in sodiumBehaviour change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption
Back in January, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said his Ministry would be launching a series of activities in 2023 “to bring down the burden of NCDs.”
Public buy-in, he said, is essential to any success of the Ministry’s efforts.
Here are some tips to reduce sodium in your diet:
Make potassium your best friend. Foods that are rich in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, can help to balance out your sodium levels and keep your blood pressure under control. Low sodium, low-fat foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and spinach.Eating a diet of fresh foods is always a good idea. Enjoy more home cooked meals. The best way to manage your diet is to cook the majority of food you consume at home. That way, you know exactly how your meal is being prepared and what proportions are included in your meals. This doesn’t mean restaurant dates are cancelled, of course. Everything in moderation. Replace salt with herbs, spices and other flavourings. Caribbean people are known for their unique culinary mastery. Get creative in the kitchen by mixing your favourite herbs and spices to replace salt. Who knows, you may find that making small changes may help you adjust your palette more easily so you don’t actually feel like you’re being deprived of the foods you already love and enjoy.Make a habit of checking the label. Particularly for processed foods, you might be surprised about the level of sodium packed in foods, even some you didn’t expect to find them. That’s why taking the few extra minutes to read the contents listed on your food packaging is a good habit to start. Being more mindful when grocery shopping makes you more informed, ultimately putting you in a position to make the best dietary choices for you and your family.