Even after more than a year the Sodium Working Group is still coming back to bite health minister Leona Aglukkaq in the artery. I find this whole saga frustrating for a few reasons. One, as a taxpayer, I’m annoyed that my tax dollars went to fund a working group whose recommendations were ignored. Two, as a healthcare professional I hate to see the health of Canadian citizens be disregarded for the benefit of the food industry.
For those unfamiliar, the Sodium Working Group was a group made-up of food industry representatives, Health Canada “experts”, and scientists. The group advised that sodium intake of Canadians should be reduced through education, and ensuring that food companies were adhering to more stringent sodium content amounts. These recommendations were presented to the health minister, and the public, in a report back in 2010.
Current sodium recommendations for adults in Canada are no more than 1, 500 mg a day. However, food labels use the upper limit of 2, 300 mg as the %DV on food labels. This makes it appear that you are consuming less of your maximum recommended daily allotment of sodium than you actually are. Keeping in mind that recent research has shown that food labels are highly inaccurate, even if you do the math you may be consuming considerably more sodium than you think.
The NDP and Liberals are pushing for a bill that would see at least some of the recommendations of the Sodium Working Group see the light of day. A representative speaking on behalf of Ms. Aglukkaq actually had the audacity to respond with the comments that: ““Because it addresses processed foods, the NDP could spend millions on a sodium registry but Canadians who want choice can still pick that up and put the salt on their food,” said Carrie, referring to a salt shaker. That’s why our voluntary approach is better, especially with the education and the collaboration.” This despite the fact that the vast majority of our sodium intake (about 77% according to the Sodium Working Group) comes from packaged food and restaurant meals. And we can see from the current inaccuracy of food labels that we cannot actually rely on a voluntary honour-system of food labelling.
So, we can’t rely on the government to lookout for us. We certainly can’t rely on the food industry either. Your best bet: prepare as many of your own meals as possible using as many minimally processed ingredients as possible. When reading food labels don’t just look at the nutrition facts panel; look at the ingredients panel as well, the numbers only tell part of the story.