Canada tops global survey for having the most sodium in packaged foods
An analysis of nearly 400,000 packaged food and drink products has found that Canadian items are the highest in sodium content while containing the lowest amount of saturated fats. (Kaboompics / Pexels)
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2019 10:28AM EDT
An analysis of nearly 400,000 packaged food and drink products has turned up some healthy and some not-so-healthy findings about what Canadians eat.
Of the 12 jurisdictions covered by the survey, Canada led the pack when it came to sodium content. Canadian packaged foods averaged 291 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of food or beverage, ahead of the U.S. at 279 milligrams per 100 grams. At the other end of the scale, packaged foods from Slovenia contained 80 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams.
Heavy sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which is linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Efforts by the federal government to cut sodium levels in processed foods by imposing voluntary targets have largely been unsuccessful. Targets were set to reduce sodium content in 94 categories of processed food by the end of 2016, but only 13 categories were able to reach those goals, while six saw their sodium content increase over the four-year program.
It was a very different story when it came to saturated fats, which can cause issues with high cholesterol. With one gram of saturated fat per 100 grams of product, Canada had the lowest levels of saturated fat of any country in the survey. China was the highest, at 3.4 grams for every 100 grams of product.
Overall, Canadian food products were found to be about average as far as health is concerned. Canada was given a health star rating of 2.74 out of five, just above the median rating of 2.73. The healthiest foods were found in the U.K. (2.83) and the least healthy in India (2.27).
"Globally we're all eating more and more processed foods and that's a concern because our supermarkets' shelves are full of products that are high in bad fats, sugar and salt and are potentially making us sick," lead author Elizabeth Dunford from Australia's University of Sydney said in a statement.
Nearly 15,000 Canadian products were studied in 2013 for the survey. Broken out by category, Canadian non-alcoholic beverages and confectionary products were found to be significantly less healthy than those in most other countries, while Canadian bread products and edible oils were found to be among the healthiest surveyed.
Health Canada is proposing to require manufacturers to include warning labels on the customer-facing side of any food products that are high in sodium, sugar or saturated fats. The agency has estimated that approximately 50 per cent of all packaged food products made in Canada will have these labels. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said he will stop this from happening if his party forms government after the Oct. 21 election.
The survey was funded by agencies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Slovenia. Canadian funders included the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the University of Toronto and the International Development Research Centre Crown corporation.
Packaged food products were used for the survey because of known links between processed foods and diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Researchers reported seeing "significant cause for concern" in that products from China and India were found to contain more unhealthy nutrients than products from higher-income countries in North America, Europe and Oceania.
"Unfortunately it's the poorer nations that are least able to address the adverse health consequences that have the unhealthiest foods," Dunford said.