Singaporeans’ daily intake on average is over 60% above recommended level
EIGHT in 10 Singaporeans are exceeding their recommended daily salt intake, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB). Its latest Salt Intake Study found that the average person consumes 8.3g daily. This is more than 60 per cent above the recommended level of 5g a day for adults. Excessive consumption is a risk factor for the development of high blood pressure. Said HPB chief executive Ang Hak Seng: “Salt is a double-edged sword when not handled with care. “While a little salt may enhance the flavour of food, over-consumption can raise blood pressure, which in turn is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.”
The study was conducted as part of last year’s National Nutrition Survey, and the results were released yesterday. It compiled data from 800 participants aged between 18 and 79 years old. This was done by collecting urine samples from the participants over a 24-hour period. It was the first time Singapore had used this method, which is seen as one of the best ways to estimate salt intake. Previous studies relied on surveys on people’s diets. The data showed that those in the age group from 30 to 49 years old consumed the most salt, averaging about 9g daily. Dr Grace Soon, chief nutritionist at the HPB’s Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, explained that those in this age group are likely to be young working adults who eat out for most of their meals. “If you just leave the soup out or the gravy out for foods like mee siam or fish ball soup, you can save about 20 to 30 per cent of the salt intake. So every little bit counts,” she said.
In general, men were found to consume about 9.6g a day, while women consumed about 7.1g a day. About 60 per cent of the salt consumed by Singaporeans comes from table salt and sauces, the survey found. Processed food such as fish balls, bread and noodles make up about 37 per cent of the daily intake. The remaining 3 per cent comes from naturally occurring salt in raw food such as meats and vegetables. About one in five Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 has hypertension, which can cause stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Known as the “silent killer”, the disease often does not display symptoms, even in sesevere cases. About one in three deaths in Singapore is caused by heart disease and stroke.
The HPB will be launching an initiative next February, the Finest Food Programme, which is aimed at encouraging local food manufacturers to develop lower-sodium products. The acronym “Finest” represents its aim of creating products that are “functional, innovative, nutritious, effective, science-based and tasty”. One project currently under way is a collaboration with salt manufacturer Siem Trading to develop “healthier salt” with a lower sodium content. With a sodium content of 65 per cent, compared with about 98 per cent for most regular table salt, it is expected to hit shelves in March next year, said Mr Ng Chin Nyan, director of Siem Trading. Meanwhile, food manufacturer Ha Li Fa has developed a range of fish balls and fish cakes with a lower salt content. It contains 25 per cent less salt than its regular counterparts. Ha Li Fa’s business development manager Randall Ang said sales have been encouraging since it was launched nine months ago.
The Finest Food Programme aims to develop 30 healthier products by 2015. In addition to products with a lower salt content, it will look into foods with other benefits, such as those with a lower glycaemic index to aid in diabetes management. Manufacturers will work with researchers from the Singapore, Republic and Temasek polytechnics, who will provide the technical expertise. The HPB targets to reduce the proportion of people exceeding the daily salt limit to just six in 10 by 2015. Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said the findings of the survey were “a cause for concern”. “We need to give people healthier food options, and it is particularly important in Singapore, because six in 10 people actually eat out at least four times a week. In order to get people to go on a healthy diet with less salt intake, you need to give people healthier food options,” she said.