Canadians can track how much salt they’re eating and identify the main sources of sodium in their diet using a new online Salt Calculator. Developed by researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T), the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the tool is among the first of its kind in North America.
On average, Canadians consume approximately 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is more than two times the recommended amount. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. High sodium intake has also been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, stomach cancer and severity of asthma.
“Many Canadians think the biggest source of salt in their diet comes from a salt shaker, but that’s not the case – it’s the hidden sodium added during food production that’s the biggest culprit,” says Dr. Joanne Arcand, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of T, who helped develop the calculator. “Enabling people to monitor their sodium intake has personal benefits – like lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease – but it can also dramatically reduce overall healthcare costs.”
The Salt Calculator – can be found on Project Big Life website – contains 23 questions and takes less than five minutes to complete. It was developed by analyzing the sodium levels of more than 20,000 grocery and restaurant foods, and is based on Canadian eating patterns and the most up-to-date data on sodium levels.
The calculator asks questions such as:
- How often do you eat out?
- Where do you eat out (fast food, table service or fine dining establishments)?
- How often and how much do you eat per day, week or month?
- What types of food do you eat (breads, prepackaged food, cheese etc.)?
“We know that Canadians are eating too much salt. But the calculator helps zero in on the exact sources in their diet that are responsible,” says Dr. Mary L’Abbé, Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of T. “Armed with this information, people can change their eating habits and re-evaluate using the calculator over time.
”Bread products, processed meats, soups and canned/pickled vegetables contribute the most sodium to the Canadian diet.
“I don’t know my patient’s sodium consumption level and my patients don’t know their levels. Even patients with hypertension and heart disease don’t know their sodium levels,” says Dr. Doug Manuel, a primary care doctor and scientist at ICES and OHRI. “Because of that information gap, I prescribe drugs more than lifestyle change. More importantly, how can we have informed public policy when individual Canadians don’t know how much sodium they consume?"
Sodium Awareness Week runs March 11–17.
The calculator is an offshoot of the Dr. Doug Manuel’s online life expectancy calculator found at: www.rrasp-phirn.ca/risktools.
ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the university’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. OHRI includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Research at OHRI is supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. www.ohri.ca
The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine is at the heart of one of the great biomedical research, education and clinical care networks in the world. With nine fully affiliated hospitals and research institutes and 18 community-affiliated hospitals and clinical care sites, the Faculty of Medicine is a research powerhouse that offers unparalleled opportunities for its 6,800 faculty and 8,000-plus students at all levels. Nearly half of Ontario’s medical doctors and fully 25 per cent of all health and biomedical PhDs in Canada were trained by the Faculty of Medicine, which consistently ranks among the top medical schools worldwide.