Updated 27 August 2013

Unilever foodies roadshow helps to shake the salt habit

Global FMCG company Unilever has embarked on a nationwide roadshow with experts to discuss why lowering salt intake is necessary and how to effect behavioural change in the interests of their health and wellbeing.

With growing concern about too much salt in the diet contributing to life-threatening diseases such as stroke and heart disease, the nation is being urged to think twice before saying "please pass the salt".

While Government has reacted by passing legislation intended to lower the salt content, food manufacturers, dieticians, consumer bodies and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have joined forces to launch a major national awareness campaign to help reduce population salt intake.

Global FMCG company Unilever has embarked on a nationwide roadshow with experts to discuss why lowering salt intake is necessary and how to effect behavioural change in the interests of their health and wellbeing.

As the custodians of nutrition information, dieticians and nutritionists were primarily targeted with the roadshows given the fact that they are important channels for imparting knowledge on nutrition to the general public and can effectively promote desirable food behaviour and appropriate nutritional practices.

The objectives of the event were to review current scientific knowledge, the impact of regulations and the importance of behaviour changing education programmes for consumers. The event also intended to inspire professionals to pay attention to the risk factors and encourage them to address it in their everyday work.

While a certain amount of salt is essential for human health and development, medical research has proved that high blood pressure is closely associated with high salt intake, which is detrimental to health.

Stroke and heart disease

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, South Africa has one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide, which makes South Africans more susceptible to life-threatening diseases like stroke and heart disease.

Statistics have shown that about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occur daily in South Africa. This means that 10 people will suffer a stroke and five people will have a heart attack every hour. A staggering 80% of these cardiovascular diseases can be prevented through modified behaviour, like reducing salt.

The affordability and accessibility of salt as a source of food flavourant makes lower income households particularly susceptible to cardiovascular diseases as salt is added quite liberally to food during cooking and at the table during meal times.

Consumer research revealed that South Africans have a tendency to add salt to food before tasting it and that consumers have acquired a taste for food that is very salty.

South Africans have a current salt intake of 6 to 11g per day, which is higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation of 5g per day. The WHO sees hypertension as a bigger health risk than smoking. A reduction of salt intake by just 2 grams per day can reduce cardiovascular events by 20%.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation advocates that in order to reach the overarching target of 5g per day by 2020, a 17 -55% reduction in salt intake will be necessary over seven years.

Unilever has challenged the mass perception that food containing a reduced amount of salt is less palatable than food with high-salt content.

High salt intake and hypertension

The Unilever roadshows in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg featured informative sessions from food industry experts and the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA as well as food demonstrations on how to achieve a low sodium diet.

"A major drive towards public health education is imperative in creating awareness of the link between high salt and hypertension, which will in turn drive consumer change towards healthy eating habits
and alternative low-salt cooking methods," said Duduzile Mthuli, Unilever’s Nutrition and Health Manager.

“This education process will reduce the burden on the South African economy and potentially avert premature deaths caused by such preventable chronic diseases.”

She said with a South African population of over 50-million people characterised by a wide variety of cultures and religious beliefs, there were more discerning tastes to satisfy.

Herbs and spices

Hence, lowering discretionary salt and debunking the myth that healthy eating is meant for people with chronic diseases remain some of the challenges to be overcome.

“Herbs and spices are a healthy and affordable way in which to spice up a low-sodium diet without having to compromise on flavour and taste.

“Natural ingredients such as basil, bay leaves, chilli, garlic, ginger, mint, oregano, pepper, rosemary and thyme are nutritious and flavoursome alternatives to salt.

“Through simple lifestyle changes such as substituting salt with other readily available low-sodium flavour-enhancing ingredients; reducing discretionary salt and looking out for products with a lower salt content, the quality of life of individuals can be extended.

“Many foods such as meat and fish are natural sources of sodium, which do not require additional salt in the cooking process.

“Ultimately, healthy eating and living is a lifestyle choice that consumers need to work towards in the interests of their personal well-being and that of their families,” said Mthuli.

Unilever has committed to continually improving the taste and nutritional quality of its products.

By 2020, Unilever hopes to double the proportion of its portfolio that meets the highest nutritional standards, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines.

Through continued collaboration with government, public health institutions and health professionals, Unilever hopes to help millions of people to achieve a healthier diet.

- (Unilever press release)




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