Speaking to the Lusa agency on the eve of the National Coronary Disease Day, which is celebrated on Tuesday, Manuel Carrageta, president of the foundation, says that “politics can be a way of doing health on a large scale” and that the tax route can help moderate your salt intake.
“The WHO target is 5g/day of salt and we are at around 10g/day. It has already dropped a little, especially in bread, but more measures must be taken”, says the president, underlining: “70% of the salt we eat comes hidden in food, particularly in processed foods”.
And he stresses: “A pack of fresh peas has a minimum amount of salt, around 1 mg of sodium, while the same amount of canned peas (…) has 200 mg of sodium”.
He also points his finger at packaged french fries, emphasizing: “a medium-sized potato has 5mg of sodium, but the same amount converted into packaged french fries can contain 1,500 mg of sodium, which is practically the maximum daily dose that should be ingested”.
“For these processed foods that have a lot of sodium, there should be a moderate tax measure, because the country is submerged in taxes and fees, but this would be a fair tax, with a positive intention”, says the cardiologist.
He says that as a cardiologist he is "impressed to see children happily eating packets of chips, with their parents watching" and warns: "later this will cause hypertension, stomach cancer and, later on, we will have strokes [cerebrovascular accidents], which are the main cause of death in Portugal and are closely related to high blood pressure associated with high salt intake”.
Recognising that people “do not have the notion” of the amount of salt they ingest in some foods, he argues that “the main risk factor is ignorance”. “It is necessary to combat illiteracy in health, which is the main cause of many diseases”.
He says that “it's all a matter of habit” and explains that working with the industry also helps to develop foods with less salt, without losing flavor.
“If we reduce the salt content of a food by 25%, we don't notice anything, because the taste buds only notice it from 30%. Therefore, with a gradual reduction in salt, people do not even notice. After a few months, they are already used to that level of salt and if they eat an identical food but with a higher salt content, it already seems salty to them”, he explains.
Inadequate nutrition is one of the main preventable causes of chronic diseases, loss of quality of life, and premature mortality in Portugal. It is estimated that, in the coming years, inadequate nutrition may surpass tobacco in the 'ranking' of modifiable risk factors that most affect the burden of the disease at a national level.
According to data from the Portuguese Society of Hypertension, if each person consumed less than 2g of salt (0.8g of sodium) per day, the stroke rate would fall by between 30 and 40% over the next five years, that is, on average, there would be 11,000 fewer cases of strokes per year in Portugal.