New Health Ministry Initiative Would Reduce Sodium in Local Processed Foods

A new Health Ministry initiative calls for reducing the amount of sodium in processed food, the ministry announced yesterday.

The ministry recently joined the European sodium reduction forum at the World Health Organization, setting up several professional committees to examine the issue and initiating meetings with representatives of the food industry and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

Similar initiatives have been taking place in several European countries in recent years. Some, like the United Kingdom and Finland, decided to reduce sodium quantities in processed food by 10 percent over the next five years.

The Israeli initiative will be presented by the ministry’s nutrition department head, Dr. Ziva Stahl, at the “Preventative Nutrition − Unified Forces” conference, which opens today in Safed.

The ministry has agreed to manufacturers’ demand that the salt reduction take place in stages, to allow the public to get used to the new taste. In addition, the process will be accompanied by public awareness campaigns. A national nutrition survey launching this week will be the first of its kind to examine sodium levels in processed foods.

“Excessive salt consumption increases blood pressure, at the least over the long run, which can cause kidney damage,” said Marianna Orbach, director of the nutrition department for the Clalit health maintenance organization’s Dan-Petah Tikva district.

Adults are recommended to have no more than 2.4 grams of sodium − the amount in 6 grams of salt − every day. The World Health Organization recently declared a new goal of reducing world salt consumption to 5 grams a day. Orbach said both the ministry and the consumers have a role.

“The ministry needs to take the lead and make sure all manufacturers reduce salt levels,” she says. “But the consumer needs to look carefully at the sodium level listed on the packages. You don’t need to restrict yourself only to low-sodium products, but if you have two similar products and one has less sodium, that’s the one to choose.”

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry recently began cooperating with international organizations to start listing dietary fiber on food packaging. “Dietary fiber is an important food component,” said Avidor Ginsberg, of the Health Ministry’s nutrition department. “Marking them will allow consumers and dieticians to calculate how much of any particular fiber a food contains. We’re still awaiting a decision by the committee, but we’ll probably take up the European Union standards.”