Restaurants lack awareness of healthy salt intake

An encouraging 58% were prepared to consider reducing salt in their dishes as long as taste was not compromised

A public health survey of 31 Maltese restaurants revealed that only five respondents (16%) gave the correct answer for the maximum amount of salt recommended each day by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - 2.5 grams per person.

This emerged from a survey carried out by nutritionist Petra Mallia and Health Promotion Director Charmaine Gauci recently published in the Malta Medical Journal.

A high intake of salt is detrimental to health, as it causes high blood pressure, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and renal disease.

Of the 31 participating Maltese restaurants, 15 were not willing to include a selection of lower salt dishes on the menu and disclose the amount of salt in the dishes. Only 12 respondents (39%) agreed with this idea.

Only one restaurant replied that it added no salt to dishes, although most restaurants replied that they are aware of the health impact of adding excessive salt.

Although 99% of the respondents were aware which foods are low or high in sodium, salt was often replaced by soy sauce and stock cubes, ingredients which are still high in sodium.

Unsurprisingly, 90% of the restaurants said they add salt to dishes to enhance flavour and improve taste. An encouraging 58% of them were prepared to consider reducing salt in their dishes as long as taste was not compromised.

The questionnaire was sent by email to 66 restaurants, but only 31 responded.

The authors acknowledge that due to the poor response rate, the study cannot be generalised with respect to the Maltese population. A more widespread study has been recommended.

Accordingly, the current salt intake in Malta is not known. However, the 1986 Intersalt Study found that Maltese men consumed 11g/day and women consumed 9g/day. The 2002 Health Interview Survey conducted in Malta showed that 47% of the participants added salt to their meals while cooking, whereas 23% added salt upon eating.