03/13/2013 06:41 EDT | Updated 05/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Salt reduction in processed food backed by Canadians

Most Canadians support steps by government to reduce sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods that are the main source of salt, a new study suggests.

Writing in Wednesday's issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, researchers from Toronto and Guelph, Ont., assess concerns about sodium and barriers to cutting back.

Most Canadians eat more than the recommended 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium, which increases risk of developing high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.

"Over 80 per cent of respondents believed that the food industry should reduce sodium in prepared and packaged food," lead investigator Mary R. L'Abbé, professor and chair of the nutrition department at the University of Toronto, and her co-authors from Toronto and Guelph wrote.

"This is relevant because most of the dietary sodium is derived from packaged and prepared foods. Health Canada data have shown that it is practically impossible to consume sodium intakes of less than 2,300 milligrams per day following Canada's Food Guide, because of the high amounts of sodium in the food supply." The maximum suggested sodium intake is 2,300 milligrams per day.

As part of the study, researchers surveyed 2,603 Canadians who were representative of the population in terms of age, sex, education and province, about their awareness of sodium.

Lack of lower sodium options in processed foods and restaurant menu options were the top barriers given to limiting intake.

Under Bill C-460, proposed by NDP health critic Libby Davies, voluntary sodium reductions in the food industry would be combined with regular monitoring, which may be enforced through regulation if targets aren't reached.

Last week, CBC-TV's Marketplace found 77 per cent of participants exceeded the recommended daily maximum of 2,300 mg based on urinary measurements of intake. The average Canadian intake is 3,400 mg per day.

The Ontario Medical Association is also promoting sodium reductions in a YouTube video.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization urged chefs, caterers and others who prepare food outside the home to reduce dietary salt below five grams per day during World Salt Awareness Week.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Canadian Stroke Network.