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Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugars

Reduce dietary sodium (salt) in Hong Kong

Frequently Asked Questions (Public)

1. What are the adverse health effects of consuming food with high sodium (salt)? What is the health status of the local population?

Dietary sodium (salt) intake is closely related to health. Excessive sodium (salt) intake will increase the risk of developing hypertension, stroke and coronary heart disease. According to a survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department in 2011-12, 34 per cent of the local population aged 55 and above suffered from hypertension.

2. What are the recommendations of the World Health Organization on daily sodium intake? What is the target for our local population?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum sodium intake of 2 000 milligrams daily (i.e. slightly less than 1 level teaspoon of salt) for adults and the average population intake of salt shall be reduced by a relative 30 per cent by 2025. Two grams of sodium means 5 grams of salt. Based on two studies conducted by a local university, it was estimated that the average daily intake of salt was about 10 grams in the adult population. As such, Hong Kong would like to reduce the average daily intake of salt to 7 grams by 2025, with an ultimate aim of 5 grams or below in the long term.

3. What actions have been taken by the Centre for Food Safety to reduce dietary sodium (salt)?

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to safeguard food safety and promote healthy eating in Hong Kong, including conducting relevant risk assessment studies, implementing nutrition labelling scheme in prepackaged foods and preparing Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sodium in Foods. Furthermore, the CFS established a Working Group on Reducing Salt in Foods in 2013 to discuss with the trade on reducing salt in foods.

4. What is the objective of setting up an International Advisory Panel?

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to reduce dietary sodium and sugars in Hong Kong. In order to strengthen our efforts, the Government set up an International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugar in early 2014, and appointed five renowned public health experts from the Mainland and overseas as members. In Mar 2015, all members accepted the appointment by the Secretary for Food and Health, and the Panel was retitled to International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food. IAP members will share experience in other jurisdictions and offer professional advice on the reduction of salt and sugar intake by the local population in Hong Kong, including but not limited to: (a) assessment of local situation; (b) setting out priority areas of reduction of salt and sugars in food and formulation of local reduction targets; (c) formulation, implementation and evaluation of action plans; and (d) promotion and public education strategy.

5. What are the recommendations of International Advisory Panel? What are the follow-up actions of the Centre for Food Safety?

The International Advisory Panel (IAP) opines that successful promotion of reduction of dietary sodium (salt) and sugars in Hong Kong relies on the tripartite collaboration among the government, food trade and consumers. In addition to the promotion and supporting efforts by the government at policy level, the food trade should also be concerned about the relevant issues and make greater efforts to reformulate food recipes to provide more quality food with less sodium (salt) and sugars to consumers. To avoid adverse health effects caused by excessive intake of sodium (salt) and sugars, consumers are advised to make careful choices, read nutrition labels and choose prepackaged food with lower sodium and sugar content. They could also change their dietary habits by reducing the amount of salt or sodium-containing seasonings added to food and cutting down on food with excessive sugars so as to allow the taste buds to adapt gradually to the light-flavoured food.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to safeguard food safety and promote healthy eating in Hong Kong, including conducting relevant risk assessment studies, implementing nutrition labelling scheme in prepackaged foods and preparing trade guidelines on reducing dietary sodium sugars and fats. The CFS will continue to work closely with the Department of Health in future to further promote the reduction of dietary sodium (salt) and sugars in Hong Kong for the whole population, with reference to the expert advice of the IAP.

6. In addition to consulting the food trade, does the Centre for Food Safety conduct studies on the sodium (salt) content in different kinds of food when setting the sodium (salt) reduction target?

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been conducting risk assessment studies (some as conjoint studies with the Consumer Council) in order to understand the nutrients in foods, including the sodium (salt) content. An example was the Study on Sodium Content in Local Foods published in September 2012. The CFS will continue to conduct studies on sodium content in different kinds of foods, and is planning to conduct a food consumption survey .

7. Does the Centre for Food Safety have priority in certain kinds of food for reduction of sodium (salt) content? And why?

The results of the studies conducted by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) show that sauces and condiments are the major sources of sodium (salt) intake of the local population. Therefore, the CFS will liaise with the trade on reducing sodium (salt) in sauces and condiments, with reference to the advice of the International Advisory Panel on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food (formerly known as International Advisory Panel of Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugar in Hong Kong) and the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, as well as the international experience in reducing dietary sodium (salt).

8. What actions can the public take to reduce dietary intake of sodium (salt)?

To avoid adverse health effects caused by excessive intake of sodium (salt), the public is advised to make careful choices, read nutrition labels and choose food with lower sodium content. In Hong Kong, under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulation (Cap.132W), prepackaged food with “low sodium”, “very low sodium”, or “free sodium” claim must contain no more than 120 milligrams, 40 milligrams, or 5 milligrams of sodium respectively per 100 grams of food.

The public could also change their dietary habits by reducing the amount of salt or sodium-containing seasonings added to food. They could use natural ingredients (e.g. garlic, ginger, lemon/lime juice, parsley) to replace seasonings and sauce which are high in salt (e.g. shrimp paste, salted black bean, chicken powder, oyster sauce). This can allow the taste buds to become accustomed to food with less salt. They are also advised to reduce the intake of processed food, e.g. preserved fish/ vegetables/ meat, ham and sausage, salty snack food, and instant noodles, etc.

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