Singapore’s Health Promotion Board aims to cut sodium intake by 15% as hypertension rises
SINGAPORE, September 28 – Healthier salt and seasoning products will be made more readily available to consumers, as part of authorities’ latest efforts to tackle rising sodium intake among residents here, while the prevalence of hypertension in the population continues to skyrocket over the years.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) aims to reduce sodium intake by 15% over the next five years, its Deputy Director for Policy and Strategy Development, Eunice Pang, said on Monday (September 26th), as the population currently consumes nearly double the recommended dietary allowance. limit.
“Over the next five years, HPB aims to aggressively grow the market share of low-sodium salt to replace at least half of the current salt market, with a focus on encouraging foodservice to switch to low-sodium salt,” the board said in response to TODAY’s questions.
Currently, only about 2% of the market includes low sodium salt.
About a quarter of the sauces and seasonings on the market are of the low-sodium variant, while demand for these products – which “has remained stable over the last five years” – is around one in five.
To expand the availability of healthier variants, HPB is trying to get more suppliers to bring low-sodium salt to market, including at more affordable prices.
Residents consume nearly double the recommended sodium level
The latest push to curb excessive sodium intake was first mentioned by Parliamentary Health Secretary Rahayu Mahzam in March during her department’s budget debate.
“People in Singapore consume an average of 3.6 grams of sodium per day. This is almost double the limit recommended by the World Health Organization, which translates to more than 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day,” she said.
From 2019 to 2020, 35.5% of the adult population had high blood pressure, up from 24.2% in 2017, according to the 2020 National Population Health Survey.
In 2010, the prevalence of this condition was 23%, leading the HPB to declare a “war on salt” campaign the following year.
In Singapore, around 75% of sodium intake comes from “added” salt, sauces and seasonings, with the majority of the remaining portion coming from processed foods.
The opposite is seen in other countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom, where more than 80% of their sodium intake comes from processed foods.
With this in mind, authorities are encouraging the replacement of salt, seasonings and sauces with low-sodium alternatives as part of a three-pronged approach to address the sodium intake issue.
The first prong is to expand the range of low-sodium salt in the market, Rahayu said in March.
Two other components of the strategy include “scaling up existing efforts using HIDS to drive the reformulation of low-sodium sauces and seasonings,” in reference to the Healthier Ingredient Development Program, and intensification of public education.
Less sodium “without compromising taste”
In response to TODAY’s questions about the strategic choice of salt replacement versus salt reduction, HPB said, “Regular table salt contains approximately 40% sodium, while low Sodium, like potassium salt, contains about 20% sodium.
“Extensive research, including clinical trials, has shown that replacing regular salt with low-sodium salt is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure, which translates into a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease .”
The council added that switching to the lower-sodium alternative is “a practical approach to reducing sodium without compromising taste, while providing health benefits”.
A four-week trial with two major caterers, NTWU Canteen and Sodexo, was conducted in 2021 where regular salt was replaced with the low sodium variant when preparing some meals.
More than 80% of consumers surveyed said “no difference” when asked to compare meals prepared with different types of salt.
More affordable prices
While offering better health benefits, low-sodium salt varieties tend to be several times more expensive than regular varieties.
An online check of major supermarket websites revealed that regular salt was selling for less than S$0.50 (RM160.3) per 500g. In contrast, a 350g packet of low sodium salt retails for around S$3.50.
Salt suppliers can leverage the HIDS to offset the production of low-sodium salt and sauces, a subsidy introduced in 2017 to support the development of healthier food products.
HPB said that currently 10 suppliers have operated the program for low sodium salt, sauces and seasonings.
Major supermarkets Sheng Siong and NTUC FairPrice will introduce more affordable low-sodium salt by the end of the month.
IMI Lifestyle Products is one market player that has recently stepped up its efforts to make healthier salt more affordable for the masses.
The company currently sells a low-sodium salt mix named GoodSalt at S$4.50 per 350g pack.
Recently, it introduced K-Salt, priced at S$2.50 per 400g packet.
“Market response has been weak so far as the public is still unaware of the full implications of current table salt consumption and the benefits of potassium salt,” the company said via email. mail.
“We (hope) get a better response when we do on-site education campaigns, like putting promoters in the supermarket.”
What about premium “natural” salts?
Besides regular salt, products marketed as “natural salt” such as Himalayan salt, sea salt, and bamboo salt sold at high prices are also common in major markets.
However, a dietitian cautioned that higher price tags don’t necessarily confer better health benefits.
“Bamboo salt and Himalayan pink salt contain higher amounts of potassium than table salt. But there is no significant difference in sodium content between these varieties,” the president said. of the Nutrition and Dietetics Association of Singapore, Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran.
Therefore, replacing regular salt with these premium salts will “not result in any reduction in the risk of hypertension or cardiovascular disease, as the sodium content of these salts is still similar to that of table salt”, a she added.
Instead, she recommends potassium-based salt, which contains 30% less sodium than other types of salt.
To ensure that one gets the most health benefit from choosing the right salt variant, Dr. Kalpana offered these handy tips for shoppers:
- Choose low-sodium (potassium-based) salt instead of regular table salt or other salts to reduce sodium intake by 30%
- Check for the healthier choice (HCS) symbol on the salt packaging
- Choose sauces and seasonings with the HCS logo
- If you choose an imported product without the HCS logo, check the sodium content on the nutrition information panel. Go for products that contain ≤400mg/100g of the product.
- Look for products that do not contain added sodium