From today, South Africans will be eating less salt, and most people will be blissfully unaware.
New legislation to reduce salt in processed foods comes into effect.
South Africans on average eat double the recommended daily salt limit of 5g a day. Most of this salt does not come from what consumers add themselves, rather from what is added during manufacturing.
Excess salt intake can raise blood pressure, thereby contributing to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease.
On average, four slices of bread provide 1.6g or a quarter teaspoon of salt per day - a third of the recommended maximum.
A portion of sausage or boerewors can provides 2.5g of salt. Even sweet breakfast cereals can bump up salt intake by another gram.
The amendment to the foodstuff regulations was published in the Government Gazette in March 2013.
A three-year implementation period was granted to allow time for manufacturers to experiment with reformulation and produce lower salt products that are still acceptable to consumers. From today, all manufacturers need to abide by new salt levels.
This groundbreaking bill imposes maximum salt level targets for a basket of commonly consumed foods.
Foods affected include bread, breakfast cereal, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks.
Each of these food categories has an individual target to be achieved by today, and another stricter limit that needs to be met by 2019.
In a simulation study, researchers estimated that a reduction of salt from breads, margarine, soup and seasonings will amount to a 0.85g daily reduction per person.
Are food manufacturers worth their salt?
The big question is whether companies are on target to meet the deadline, and if the foods on our shelves are actually lower in salt. Sibonile Dube, corporate affairs director for Unilever SA, says “All our products being manufactured, post-June 2016, will be 100% compliant to the salt regulations. There will still be some older stock in circulation, but we can assure consumers that we have met these targets.”
Lee-Anne Engelbrecht, brand manager at Sasko breads, echoes this response: “Sasko has been hard at work to align with the required salt regulations and is well on track to meet the sodium targets within the specified deadline.”
There are also many foods that are not included in the legislation either. Salted peanut butter contains 800 times more salt than the unsalted variety.
Foods affected by legislation, such as potato chips and processed meats, will still be very salty even after target levels have been met.
All foods with the Heart Mark logo have been evaluated and are lower salt options.
On average, four slices of bread provides 1.6g, or a quarter teaspoon, of salt per day, a third of the recommended maximum. A portion of sausage or boerewors can provide 2.5g of salt.
Consumers can use www.saltcalculator.co.za to find out where the salt in their diet comes from.