SINGAPORE: Singapore’s battle against excess sodium consumption focuses on addressing the unique local context, where sodium intake primarily comes from added condiments when dining out, as highlighted by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam. This revelation was made during a parliamentary session held on Monday, as reported by The Straits Times.
Ms Rahayu also pointed out that unlike many European and Western nations, where processed foods account for the majority of sodium intake, Singaporeans heavily rely on added salt, sauces, and seasonings, including soya sauce, dark sauce, fish sauce, and chilli sauce, when enjoying meals outside their homes. The Government is now gearing up to collaborate with salt and sauce manufacturers to combat this issue effectively.
One key initiative is to engage with food operators and their industry and professional associations, educating them on the importance of reducing salt intake. Furthermore, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) offers grant support to salt and sauce suppliers through the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme, which encourages the development of lower-sodium alternatives. These alternatives have become readily available, with competitive pricing compared to their regular counterparts.
Ms Rahayu disclosed that the HPB has successfully secured the commitment of 15 major manufacturers and food operators, accounting for over 30% of the retail market for sauces and seasonings and 10% of the food and beverage market share. This commitment aims to enhance the variety and demand for lower-sodium ingredients in the market.
The Government’s efforts come in response to a concerning increase in sodium consumption among Singaporeans.
A 2022 National Population Health Survey revealed that 37% of the population had hypertension in 2021-2022, up from 35.5% in 2019-2020. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had previously announced that Singapore was exploring regulatory measures to reduce sodium content in food in response to this concerning trend.
While Singapore has studied the practices of countries like Chile and Hungary, which employ warning labels and taxes on high-sodium food items, Ms Rahayu emphasised that the Republic aims to adopt a unique approach suited to its specific context. Singapore’s Nutri-Grade nutrition labelling system, which rates the healthiness of sugary drinks from A to D, has effectively reduced sugar consumption without warning labels, and Ms Rahayu believes that a similar strategy could be effective in reducing sodium intake.
Ms Rahayu also mentioned that these measures to curb excessive sodium intake would be rolled out in phases to allow operators and providers time to adapt. Engaging with stakeholders, including hawkers, restaurants, caterers, and chefs, is critical in promoting the adoption of lower-sodium ingredients. It will involve explaining the importance of reducing sodium intake, introducing lower-sodium options, and even providing samples for these stakeholders to try. Additionally, they will help educate the public about the nature of salt as an acquired taste, which can hinder the appreciation of other natural ingredients.
To address the pressing issue of excessive sodium consumption in Singapore, the government is taking action, but what can you do to lead a healthier, “less salty” life?
In CNA’s Heart of the Matter Podcast, host Steven Chia had a conversation with three guests: Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, who is the President of the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, Candy Goh, a Clinical Dietitian at Parkway MediCentre, and Terence Koh, a father who achieved an incredible feat by losing 35 kilograms in just eight months, for the sake of his newborn son.
The central question the podcast addresses is whether a food paradise like Singapore can offer delicious yet less salty food, especially considering the busy lifestyles Singaporeans lead.
To sum up how you can avoid excessive salt consumption in your diet, here are 10 things the experts have suggested:
- Choose dishes with less sodium content when eating out.
- Opt for stir-fried, roasted, or grilled dishes, which typically contain less oil.
- Enhance flavours with natural herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Reduce or eliminate processed foods from your diet.
- Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your meals.
- Choose lean meats and prepare them with less oil and salt.
- Mix brown rice with white rice to get used to the taste of whole grains.
- Use food tracking apps to monitor your sodium and calorie intake.
- Avoid crash diets. Be consistent with your healthy eating habits and make gradual changes to adjust your taste preferences.
As Clinical Dietician Candy Goh mentioned, “Start small, try and avoid doing a whole overhaul to your diet.” /TISG