05:43pm Tuesday 25 February 2020

Heart and Stroke Foundation: Sodium Reduction Must be a Priority for Canada

Sodium consumption contributes to high blood pressure – the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. About six million adult Canadians have high blood pressure.

Despite several recent scientific reports questioning the connection between dietary sodium and cardiovascular health, there is in fact a wide-body of evidence that demonstrates the link between high sodium consumption and heart disease and stroke. The connection is real.

It is estimated that one in seven deaths from stroke and one in 11 deaths from coronary heart disease could be prevented if Canadians reduced their sodium intake by 1,840 mg per day (roughly ¾ tsp).[i]

On average, Canadians consume too much sodium. Our levels well exceed what is recommended by international agencies and Health Canada. The average Canadian consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, the vast majority of which is contained in processed foods.

“Recent studies questioning the link between high sodium intake and elevated blood pressure are far from compelling and do not warrant a change in current thinking and practice about limiting sodium consumption in the Canadian population,” says Bobbe Wood, President of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “Downplaying the sodium blood pressure connection is dangerous, especially if it discourages Canadians from taking the simple step of consuming less salt.” 

According to the Foundation, these studies if broadly misinterpreted can undo years of public information on the benefits of sodium reduction.

Reducing sodium to the levels recommended by the federally appointed Sodium Working Group will reduce the number of heart attacks in Canada and save lives. In 2010 the federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) ministers of health called for the adoption of the interim goal of reducing the sodium intake of Canadians to 2,300 milligrams per day by 2016, and the implementation of voluntary industry targets and monitoring for sodium reduction.

This November’s meeting of the FPT health ministers will provide an excellent opportunity for governments to propose critical next steps in this area. The Foundation urges the federal government to establish sodium reduction targets for packaged foods and an accompanying monitoring mechanism as soon as possible.

Other developed countries have instituted sodium reduction plans and are seeing the benefits,” says Wood. 

In Canada, it has been estimated that a decrease in the average sodium intake of about 1,800 mg per day would prevent 23,500 cardiovascular disease events per year – a decrease of 13 percent, resulting in a total of direct and indirect health care savings of $2.99 billion per year.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation works with government, industry, health partners, and through our Health Check™ food information program to reduce sodium in our foods, and to remind Canadians of the link between nutrition and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. To meet Health Check criteria 14 companies removed 500,000 kg of salt from their products in just four years. The Foundation also continues to fund and support research to improve healthy eating.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation encourages Canadians to prepare their meals at home and eat as much fresh food as possible, limit their consumption of processed foods, eat five to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, eat lower-fat products, and include items from the four food groups. Healthy recipes can be found online at heartandstroke.ca and in the free Health Check Recipe Helper app at heartandstroke.ca/mobileapps.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation (heartandstroke.ca), a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.

[i] Whelton PK, Jian H, Lawrence J, Appel LJ et al. Primary Prevention of Hypertension. Clinical and Public Health Advisory from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program”. JAMA, 2002;288(15):1882-1888.

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