Budget debate: Moves to decrease salt intake, substitute with lower-sodium alternatives

High sodium intake is associated with increased risk of hypertension, which, in turn, leads to higher risk of cardiovascular complications. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - The Republic's fight against salt has been taken up a notch with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) looking at more ways to reduce sodium intake and promote healthier lifestyles.

For instance, the health authorities will work with the food service sector to use lower-sodium alternatives, as eating out is a major reason people consume so much salt.

Sustained efforts will also carry on for diabetes and tobacco use.

High sodium intake is associated with increased risk of hypertension, which, in turn, leads to higher risk of cardiovascular complications such as stroke and heart attack.

Singaporeans young and old are getting less healthy generally, even after adjusting for age, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in his speech for his ministry's budget on Wednesday (March 9).

For example, in 2017, about two in 10 (21.9 per cent) had high blood pressure. In 2020, it was about three in 10 (31.7 per cent), Mr Ong said.

A significant number - more than one in three Singapore residents aged 18 to 74 - had hypertension between 2019 and 2020.

Salt intake by Singapore residents is also almost double that of the World Health Organisation's recommended limit of less than 2,000mg of sodium per day. Singaporeans consumed 3,600mg of sodium per day - or more than 1.5 teaspoons of salt) - on average in 2018.

To fight this, HPB has launched new ways to rein in these sodium levels.

First, it will work with salt suppliers and the food service sector through the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme (HIDS) to encourage the substitution of regular salt used in cooking with lower-sodium alternatives such as lower-sodium salt.

Lower-sodium salt contains 30 per cent less sodium at the same quantity.

HIDS covers both oil and grain staples, mainly rice and noodles, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages, sauces, desserts, wholegrain products, sweet spreads and table salt.

The scheme encourages food manufacturers to innovate and develop a wider variety of healthier ingredients and products for uptake in Singapore's food service.

Based on HPB's website, HIDS will fund up to 80 per cent of total qualifying project investment, and scheme participants will co-pay 20 per cent of the remaining project cost. There will be an overall cap of $200,000 across the supportable activities.

Second, HPB will intensify existing efforts under the HIDS to spur industry reformulation of lower-sodium salt, sauces and seasonings, to further increase the range and variety of healthier choices for Singaporeans, MOH said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Finally, HPB will embark on a nationwide campaign to encourage Singaporeans to eat less salt.

The campaign will publicise the dangers of consuming too much salt, build awareness of salt substitutes, and give people tips on what they can do to make food flavourful while using less salt.

In addition to salt, the health authorities are also setting their sights on another old enemy - diabetes.

Fortunately, the prevalence rate for diabetes has been constant, Mr Ong said. This is likely due to Singapore's sustained efforts through the years. The rate was 8.6 per cent in 2010, 7.8 per cent in 2017, and 7.9 per cent in 2019-2020.

From Dec 30 this year, consumers will be able to easily check the nutrition value of pre-packaged drinks and those sold from automatic beverage dispensers, as new labelling regulations aimed at reducing Singaporeans' sugar intake kick in.

Soft drinks, fruit juices and juice drinks, milk and yogurt drinks, and instant powdered beverages are among the products that will receive a "Nutri-Grade" rating, with grades ranging from A to D, with D being the unhealthiest.

Singaporeans consumed on average 12 teaspoons of sugar daily, much more than is nutritionally required, based on a 2018/2019 National Nutrition Survey.

HPB recommends keeping sugar intake to no more than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake. That works out to be about 45g to 55g, or nine to 11 teaspoons, of sugar per day for adults.

About 19,000 people here are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes each year.

On the final front to promote healthier lifestyles, MOH is also controlling the use of tobacco here.

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