Alarmed by high death rates from strokes in Portugal, deputies from the ruling Socialist party submitted a bill to parliament to slash the use of salt in bread, blamed for many blood pressure problems.
The country's key dietary staple - dried salted cod that is rehydrated and cooked in many different ways - has made the Portuguese accustomed to using more salt in food than other nations, and bakers add generous amounts to their dough.
Bread is one of the main sources of salt intake and many Portuguese eat it with every meal.
High mortality rate from stroke
"Portugal currently has one of the highest mortality rates from strokes in Europe, which is about double that observed in Spain and three times that in France," the draft bill reads.
According to the Portuguese Society of High Blood Pressure, a reduction of salt intake by 1gr a day on average would save 2 650 lives per year. Strokes kill up to 20 000 people a year, accounting for some 20% of deaths in Portugal.
The document also cited a recent study by the Sciences and Health Faculty of Fernando Pessoa University as saying daily salt intake in Portugal was about double the 5.8gr a day limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.
More salt, more costs
The document links excessive salt consumption to high blood pressure, which in turn causes strokes, generally reduces life expectancy and means high medication costs for the state.
The most popular type of bread in Portugal has between 18gr and 21gr of salt per kg. Even healthier wholemeal bread has 15gr on average.
The bill calls for salt content to be cut to a maximum of 14gr per kg, or by about 25%, introducing fines of up to 5 000 euros (R64 505) for exceeding this. It also envisages compulsory labelling of products with high salt content.
Socialists have the majority of seats in parliament and the bill is likely to pass without a hitch. – (Reuters Health, March 2009)
Make a new assault on salt
Stroke and diet