As part of the government’s Less Salt, More Life initiative, Argentinian food manufacturers agreed to voluntarily and gradually reduce the sodium content in four processed food categories – meat products; cereal-based products; dairy products and soups; and seasonings and preserves – with the goal of reaching salt consumption of less than 5 g per person per day by 2020.
While some food manufacturers are meeting the new sodium and salt reduction requirements and there has been a decrease in sodium in bread, salt levels in other food categories remain “very high”, write researchers from the National University of Jujuy in a recently published study.
Furthermore, many of the on-pack sodium declarations on processed products do not reflect actual content, they found. Under Mercosur rules (regulation No 46/03), manufacturers must declare sodium content but the actual content is permitted to be 20% over or under the declared level. “This wide variability notably decreases the accuracy of the information,” write the researchers.
In this study, which evaluated over 1,000 products in two separate periods to monitor changes, the researchers found that 63% of meat product samples had more sodium than the on-pack declaration, and two samples were above 20% more.
Bread fared better, with 62% of samples containing less sodium than was declared on pack and all of the samples within the regulatory 20% threshold.
Stricter monitoring to ensure compliance is therefore needed, they write.
“On the labeling monitored between the two periods, a decrease was observed only in the bread and bakery products group, while in the other groups, including meat and meat products, there was a slight increase, which would indicate that the national goals for sodium reduction should be adjusted through the implementation of more stringent programs, with more regularity in monitoring, and establishing less flexible tolerance limits.”
The researchers compiled information on the sodium content of nutrition labels for 1,056 food products sold in supermarkets in the provinces of Jujuy, Tucumán and Buenos Aires, and from manufacturers’ official websites, in two periods, five years apart.
They then cross-referenced this information with compliance of companies that have agreed to gradually reduce sodium content.
According to a 2013 study by Maalouf et al., the salt added to food when cooking or eating accounts for a small amount of total salt intake while processed foods and foodservice accounts for around three-quarters of sodium intake in many Latin American countries.
Fast food products had the highest salt levels followed by meat products and snacks. Bread had an average sodium content of 453 mg per 100 g but the average Argentinian eating 195 g a day, it significantly contributes to daily salt intake, the researchers note. Sauces and soups, meanwhile, are high in sodium but they represent only a small portion of dietary intake in Argentina.
Source: Journal of Food Composition and Analysis
Available online ahead of print, 13 August 2019, doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2019.103289
“Sodium content in foods consumed by Argentines: Monitoring compliance with agreements, in labels and samples”
Authors: Sonia Rosario Calliope, Norma Sammán