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Joint Consumer Council Study: Sodium Content in Local Meal-on-One-Plate

Abstract

1. Excessive intake of sodium (salt) may have higher risk of developing hypertension. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attack , stroke and kidney failure, etc. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), high proportions of sodium in the diet come from salt added in cooking and from sauces in Asian countries, while meal-on-one-plate (MOOP) is one of the categories of staple food in local daily diet. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council (CC) thus have conducted a joint study, and tested the sodium content in some MOOP that are commonly available in local restaurants , as well as checked the nutrition labelling information of some of these prepackaged MOOP. This study aims to measure and compare among food outlets the levels of sodium in some local MOOP dishes; inform and assist the public to make informed choices when eating out; and encourage the trade to provide MOOP items with less sodium through recipe reformulation.

The Study

2. The study covered 100 samples (10 types) of non-prepackaged MOOP collected from Chinese, Western and Asian restaurants, local style cafés and fast-food chains during July to September 2016, which were tested for the sodium content by the Food Research Laboratory. Moreover, 3 more non-prepackaged samples of “steamed rice with barbecued pork without sauce” were collected and tested so as to understand the effect of the addition of sauce on the sodium content of MOOP. In addition, 8 samples (3 types) of prepackaged MOOP were obtained from supermarkets and retail outlets, and their sodium contents as declared on nutrition labelling were examined.

3. The mean, minimum and maximum sodium content per 100 g of the 10 types of non-prepackaged MOOP samples are summarised in the table below. Mean sodium content of “fried noodles with preserved vegetable and spare rib” ranked the highest whereas that of “steamed rice with bean curd sheet and roasted pork” ranked the lowest.

MOOP types

No. of non-prepackaged samples

Sodium content (mg/100 g)

Mean

Minimum

Maximum

Fried noodles with preserved vegetable and spare rib
( 味菜排骨炒麵 )

10

470

350

600

Braised E-Fu noodles
( 干燒伊麵 )

10

410

250

500

Spaghetti Bolognese
( 肉醬意粉 )

10

350

210

430

Fried rice noodles with sliced beef
( 乾炒牛肉河粉 )

10

340

230

440

Baked pork chop with rice
( 焗豬扒飯 )

10

340

240

460

Fried rice in Fujian-style
( 福建炒飯 )

10

310

180

420

Steamed rice with curry beef brisket
( 咖喱牛腩飯 )

10

270

190

390

Steamed rice with barbecued pork
( 叉燒飯 )

10

260

170

320

Steamed rice with chicken in scrambled egg sauce
( 日式滑蛋雞飯 /親子丼 )

10

240

150

320

Steamed rice with bean curd sheet and roasted pork
( 枝竹火腩飯 )

10

230

110

310

Overall

100

320

110

600

4. Sodium content varied quite widely among restaurants within certain MOOP types (e.g. a maximum sodium difference of nearly two folds was observed in “steamed rice with bean curd sheet and roasted pork”). This suggests that it is practicably possible for the trade to reduce the sodium content in MOOP.

5 . The mean sodium contribution of the 10 types of non-prepackaged MOOP to WHO’s recommended limit of daily intake (2,000 mg sodium per day) is summarised in the table below. Among all 100 MOOP samples, one portion of MOOP contributed a mean of 100% of WHO’s recommended limit of daily sodium intake. Nearly half of the samples contained sodium contents over WHO’s recommended limit of daily intake in one portion, while all samples contained sodium contents over one-third of that limit in one portion.

MOOP types

Mean sodium contribution to WHO’s recommended limit of daily intake in one portion [ range]

Number of sample reached WHO’s recommended limit of daily sodium intake in one portion

Fried noodles with preserved vegetable and spare rib
( 味菜排骨炒麵 )

150% [100-250%]

10

Fried rice in Fujian-style
( 福建炒飯 )

130% [ 89-150% ]

7

Braised E-Fu noodles
( 干燒伊麵 )

120% [ 65-210% ]

8

Steamed rice with curry beef brisket
( 咖喱牛腩飯 )

110% [ 59-170% ]

4

Baked pork chop with rice
( 焗豬扒飯 )

110% [ 81- 140 % ]

6

Fried rice noodles with sliced beef
( 乾炒牛肉河粉 )

100% [ 62-150%]

6

Spaghetti Bolognese
( 肉醬意粉 )

91% [ 35-130% ]

4

Steamed rice with bean curd sheet and roasted pork
( 枝竹火腩飯 )

73% [ 34-97% ]

0

Steamed rice with barbecued pork
( 叉燒飯 )

63% [ 37-91% ]

0

Steamed rice with chicken in scrambled egg sauce
( 日式滑蛋雞飯 / 親子丼 )

63% [ 44-88% ]

0

Overall

100% [ 34-250% ]

45

6. For the three types of prepackaged MOOP samples collected in this study, prepackaged “spaghetti Bolognese” was found to have mean sodium content per 100 g higher than that of its non-prepackaged counterparts. The mean sodium contents per 100 g of prepackaged and non-prepackaged “baked pork chop with rice” were relatively the same. On the other hand, prepackaged “steamed rice with curry beef brisket” was found to have mean sodium content per 100 g lower than that of its non-prepackaged counterparts. The findings suggested that both prepackaged and non-prepackaged products might have rooms for reformulation for lowering the sodium content.

7. The results of this study also showed that when having “steamed rice with barbecued pork” without consuming sauce, the reduced sodium intake accounted for as much as ~30% of WHO’s recommended daily limit. Similarly, when having “steamed rice with curry beef brisket ” without consuming gravy, the reduced sodium intake reached a quarter of WHO’s recommended daily limit on average. These results implied that limiting the consumption of sauce or gravy in MOOP could reduce sodium intake effectively.

Advice to Consumers

  • Limit the consumption of MOOP high in sodium and those MOOP items contain ingredients with high salt content (e.g. pickles, salted fish, preserved sausages).
  • Request no or less sauce to be added on MOOP; and ask for “less salt” or “less salty” option of the food.
  • Request dishes to be served separately from rice/noodles when making order, and taste before adding gravy.
  • Beware of the portion size of MOOP, share with others when the portion size is large.
  • Take note of the nutrient content to choose the suitable MOOP, such as reading nutrition labelling, making reference to the result of this study or the Nutrition Information Inquiry System (NIIS) of the CFS. When selecting a healthier option, apart from sodium content, other nutrition information such as fat content is also important.

Advice to the Trade

  • Avoid using food high in salt (e.g. pickles, salted fish, preserved sausages) or limit the amount when using such food by replacing with fresh ingredients, herbs and spices. Rinse or soak pickles in water when used, and adjust the amount of added salt and other sodium-containing seasonings.
  • Make reference to the CFS’ “Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sodium in Foods” to reformulate recipe and reduce adding salt and seasonings.
  • Serve sauce and dish in separate containers to allow consumers to add sauce and gravy based on their preference. Use standard measuring spoons to add the required amount of sauce on MOOP if needed, or add sauce upon consumers’ request.
  • Apart from providing the standard portion size of MOOP, offer MOOP in smaller portion size for consumers to choose based on their requirements.
  • Enable consumers to make informed choice by showing nutrition information (particularly sodium/salt) of MOOP on menus, price list and other printed matters.

More Information

8. The related article is published in the CHOICE MAGAZINE (Issue 485) released on 15 March 2017 (Chinese only).

 

March 2017
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

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Last Revision Date : 15-03-2017