South Africans on target to shake their salt habit

South Africa is on track to meet mandatory salt targets, according to analysis of more than 11,000 packaged foods. But, the study by The George Institute for Global Health found many commonly eaten products including bread, sausages and crisps still contained high levels of salt just months before the new limits were introduced in 2016.

Dr Sanne Peters of The George Institute for Global Health said it was essential that regular monitoring of processed foods was undertaken to ensure manufacturers were meeting and sticking to the targets.

“South Africa was the first country in the world to introduce mandatory salt targets for a wide range of processed foods – foods that people eat every day but all too often contain very high levels of salt.

“We found that almost 70 per cent of the foods subject to this ground-breaking legislation had salt levels that either met or were below the new targets which is very encouraging. It suggests many manufacturers have been actively reformulating their products to make them healthier.

“But, there were still too many food categories which worryingly had high levels of salt. Just a quarter of the breads we surveyed would have passed the new legislation and that is especially concerning given this is such a commonly eaten food.”

The bill which came into law in June 2016 imposes maximum salt level targets for a basket of commonly consumed foods - bread, breakfast cereal, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks.

Key findings:

  • The study found that 67 per cent of the foods subject to legislation met the targets, with over 90 per cent of breakfast cereals, porridges and uncured processed meats having salt levels below the maximum allowed.
  • Just 27 per cent of breads, 41 per cent of potato crisps and 45 per cent of raw processed sausages met new targets.
  • Overall half of all gravy powders exceeded the targets by a huge 50 per cent.
  • Whilst the study analysed more than 11,000 processed foods, just 1,851 were subject to the salt legislation. Meats outside the targets, including bacon, salami and biltong were revealed to contain higher levels of salt than meats covered by the legislation.

Professor Bruce Neal, Director of the Food Policy Division at The George Institute, added: “This was a very important first step by the South African Government. Salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure which raises the risk of stroke and heart attack.

“If South Africans were able to reduce their salt intake by less than a gram a day there would be 7,500 less deaths each due to cardiovascular disease. Just imagine the benefits if there was a bigger reduction in salt intake.

“It’s achievable but only if salt levels are continually monitored and enforced.”

Read the Nutrients journal article.