Salt restrictions introduced from today

New legislation to reduce salt in processed foods comes into effect today (30 June 2016).

South Africans eat, on average, double the recommended daily salt limit of five grams a day. Most of this salt does not come from what consumers add themselves, but rather from what is added during manufacturing.

Health Minister Motsoaledi’s ground-breaking bill imposes maximum salt level targets for a basket of commonly consumed foods. Foods affected include bread, breakfast cereal, margarines and butter, savoury snacks, potato crisps, processed meats, sausages, soup and gravy powders, instant noodles and stocks. Each of these food categories has an individual target to be achieved by today, and another stricter limit that needs to be met by 2019.

Excess salt intake can raise blood pressure, thereby contributing to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease. From today South Africans will eat a little less salt as legislation comes into effect to reduce the salt content of commonly consumed foods.

Most salt is hidden in everyday foods

Here’s how you could go over your limit from eating foods that you would normally eat:

Four slices of bread: 1.6 grams
A portion of sausage/boerwors: 2.5 grams
Breakfast cereal: 1.2 grams
Chips: 1.1 grams

Total: 6.4 grams

Use the salt calculator here: to find out where the salt in your diet comes from and if you manage to eat within your daily limits.

A three year wait
The amendment to the foodstuff regulations was published in the Government Gazette in March 2013. A three year implementation period was granted to allow time for manufacturers to experiment with reformulation and produce lower salt products that are still acceptable to consumers. From today all manufacturers need to abide to new salt levels.

The impact of reduced salt on heart diseases and strokes
In a simulation study, researchers estimated that a reduction of salt from breads, margarine, soup and seasonings will amount to a 0.85 gram daily reduction per person. Using expected improvements in blood pressure and national statistics, they calculated the expected impact on our nation’s health. This level of salt reduction is estimated to result in 7 400 fewer cardiovascular deaths and 4 300 fewer non-fatal strokes every year.

Are food manufacturers complying?  
Are food manufacturers on target to meet the deadline and are the foods on our shelves actually lower in salt? Sibonile Dube, corporate affairs director for Unilever SA says: “All our products being manufactured, post June 2016, will be 100% compliant to the salt regulations. There will still be some older stock in circulation, but we can assure consumers that we have met these targets.”

Le-Anne Engelbrecht, brand manager at Sasko breads, adds: “Sasko has been hard at work to align with the required salt regulations and is well on track to meet the sodium targets within the specified deadline.”

Is changing the law going to be enough?
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, while legislation is an important step, it will not completely resolve our excess salt intake. South African consumers add on average four grams of salt to food at home. This alone nearly meets the World Health Organization’s maximum limit of five grams or one teaspoon per day. There are also many foods that are not included in the legislation either. Salted peanut butter, for example, contains 800 times more salt than the unsalted variety.

Foods affected by legislation like potato chips and processed meats will still be very salty even after target levels have been met. Take away meals are the biggest culprits when it comes to saltiness – a fried chicken or burger meal provides double to triple our daily intake, sometimes even more.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa advises consumers to read food labels, compare products and demand less salty products in order to reduce the amount of salt intake. It points out that all foods with the Heart Mark logo have been evaluated and are lower salt options. “Of course our responsibility doesn’t end whilst shopping – adding less salt whilst cooking and at the table is just as important,” adds the foundation.

For more about the dangers of salt, click here.