Sodium Consumption in Israel Almost Twice the Recommended Amount

National study says level of salt consumption has not fallen in last five years despite Health Ministry plan

File photo: Savory snacks in an Israeli supermarket.
Ofer Vaknin

A national study by the Health Ministry found that the consumption of sodium in Israel is very high — almost double the recommended amount, at an average of over 9.5 grams of salt a day compared to the recommended 5 to 6 grams.

High consumption of sodium increases the danger of developing many diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, stomach cancer and kidney failure. Most of the salt comes from processed food (75 percent). About 15 percent comes from adding table salt during cooking and at meals, and only 10 percent occurs naturally in food.

In 2013 the Health Ministry embarked on a national program to reduce sodium consumption, with a target of reducing average consumption to 2.3 grams daily or less (about a teaspoon), instead of 9 to 10 grams, thereby reducing consumption by at least a third.

The program aimed to gradually lower the amounts of salt added to processed foods in Israel, through cooperation with the industry, trade groups and the health maintenance organizations. The recommendation was to reduce salt consumption gradually through awareness and informed buying.

Recommendations included reading labels and preferring foods with less sodium, or using alternative seasoning including fresh and dried herbs. Five years have passed, and according to the new survey sodium consumption remains unchanged.

The study used urine tests — which are considered the most accurate measurement — for the first time. It included 639 subjects aged 20 to 67 and is based on questionnaires and tests of urine, blood and blood pressure.

The researchers found a decline in the amount of sodium in processed foods: for example, 30 percent less in cottage cheese. Despite national campaigns the public is not sufficiently aware of the damage caused by overconsumption of salt. Only 65 percent know that salt increases blood pressure, and far fewer know that high salt consumption is related to stomach cancer and osteoporosis.

In Western countries, including Israel, 75 to 80 percent of sodium comes from processed food. The main sources are not necessarily foods considered very salty, but those that are consumed often and on a daily basis. Often the salt and sodium is not even felt, so that many people are unaware of its consumption.

Israel is no different from other countries in overconsumption of salt. A comprehensive study in 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that everyone in the world consumes too much salt. Only in a handful of African countries, such as Kenya and Cameroon, do people consume less than the recommended amount.