Salt labelling needed on menus: health pros

Katherine George
Life Reporter

Restaurants should include sodium information alongside calorie counts, say some health groups.

Ontario’s new menu labeling bill may see restaurants add more salt to meals to enhance flavour, according tthe Ontario Sodium Alliance.

The proposed bill requires restaurants, fast-food chains, supermarkets and convenience stores to inform consumers of calorie counts.

There’s evidence restaurants implemented higher salt in meals after New York introduced calorie labeling in 2008, said Mark Holland, director of health promotion at Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada.

“(Salt) is the only thing that can be hidden. When restaurants are forced to show caloric values, they seek a way to maintain taste.”

Canadians consume about 3,600 mg of sodium a day, significantly higher than the 2,300 mg or less recommended by Health Canada.

Six million people in Canada have high blood pressure and hypertension, one million of those cases being attributed to a large amount of salt intake, said Holland.

“Kids are being exposed to more sodium than they should be through either prepackaged meals or eating out. We have a situation where kids can be hypertensive and not know because it isn’t expected,” said Robin Reece, advisor at the Foundation.

“People can reduce their sodium intake by eating at home, and eating more fresh foods as opposed to packaged foods,” Reece continued.

“The challenge is that most people don’t realize they have a sodium problem because they don’t use the saltshaker, but it is already baked into their foods,” said Holland.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and University of Guelph shows Canadians want to know the impact a high sodium diet has on overall health. Eighty per cent of Canadians want less salt and better nutritional information on packaged foods.

The study surveyed more than 2,600 Canadians and was published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology on March 13.

The average person is unaware of what a healthy intake of sodium is, said Holland: “We feel that within a school environment there should be more discussion around nutritional composition of food including sodium.”