UAE: Hidden salt in packed food can cause severe health risks, Ministry warns

MoHAP launches campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of excessive consumption and its detrimental effects on community health


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: File
Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: File

Published: Tue 28 May 2024, 12:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 28 May 2024, 10:38 PM

Hidden salts found in many packed food products comes with health risks, authorities have warned.

Excessive salt intake can cause diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, circulatory issues, and stroke, said the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) and has highlighted the importance of reducing salt in diets to improve overall health.

To curb the dangers of hidden salt, MoHAP launched a seven-day campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of excessive salt consumption and its detrimental effects on community health.

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The initiative aimed to equip community members with the knowledge and skills to cook their favourite meals using healthier alternatives to salt, inform them about the negative health effects of salt, and guide them in selecting healthier food products by understanding salt content labels.

The focus of the campaign is to encourage community members to embrace healthier eating habits by reducing salt intake and opting for low-salt food products. It comes in line with the ministry's strategy to enhance the quality of healthy living and raise community awareness about adopting nutritious eating practices.

Read food labels

The campaign featured several activities, including workshops on healthy alternatives and the importance of reading food labels before purchasing.

The ministry utilised its digital platforms and collaborated with partners like Union Coop, Choithrams, Liwa Gate, and Ajman Markets Cooperation to educate the community about the risks associated with high salt consumption.

The campaign also sought to equip community members with practical skills for preparing low-salt recipes through instructional videos. Supported by Clickon for electronic and home appliances, these videos demonstrate the use of salt substitutes and promote the preparation of healthy dishes.

Additionally, social media quizzes were organised to engage and incentivize participants to share their healthy meal creations, fostering a culture of wellness within the community.

Nouf Khamis Al Ali, director of the Health Promotion Department at MoHAP, said: “The campaign, launched as part of our ongoing efforts to encourage healthy eating and enhance the quality of life through educational workshops, contests, and materials shared on social media.”

“Our end goal of the campaign was to inspire community members to improve their eating habits significantly, equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for the effective use of salt substitutes, and offer practical advice on reducing salt intake. We will spare no effort to motivate all segments of society to adopt healthy dietary practices,” Al Ali added.

According to dieticians in the UAE, the focus is on hidden salt, the term itself indicating consumption without knowledge. Dieticians have said that it is important that consumers buy products by reading food labels, especially processed and packaged products. “Salt is a major part of our cooking and it can be identified easily when it comes to table salt. But, there are plenty of high-sodium foods that people might not be aware of, we generally call them hidden salt sources,” said Tala Mustafa, nutrition and dietetics, Aman Lil Afia Clinic.

Tala Mustafa
Tala Mustafa

“Sodium is the mineral that is found in salt, and it also comes under names like Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate and baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, sodium phosphate, etc,” said Mustafa.

“One should look for contents like salt, additives, MSG, and colourants to know the hidden salt content in such foods,” said Fahmida Jafri, dietitian-clinical nutrition, Thumbay University Hospital.

Dieticians also said that common salt is a well-known ingredient to increase palatability in food. However, to reduce overall salt intake, one must refrain from adding canned foods, sauces, and curry powders to their food. Rather, it is quite easy to stay within normal salt consumption limits, if these preserved ingredients are avoided. Hypertensive people can improve the flavour of foods by adding fresh condiments, herbs and lemon to their recipes,” said Jafri.

Fahmida Jafri
Fahmida Jafri

Dieticians have urged residents to reduce salt and gradually cut back on table salt and stick to small amounts. They have advised to use spices, herbs, and fresh ingredients to naturally enhance the taste.

“Cooking at home with fresh ingredients allows you to control salt intake without the hidden sodium burden. Other salt substitutes can include garlic, lemons, black pepper, onion powders, vinegar, smoked paprika, and other herbs like thyme, dill, coriander, and tarragon,” said Mustafa.

Dieticians advise residents to have omelette with fresh vegetables, flavoured with herbs like wild thyme and sumac, topped with unprocessed-low salt cheese like halloumi, and served with whole wheat toast during breakfast. “Ditch sugary cereals for cooked oats with cinnamon, honey, unsalted nuts and fresh fruit. Small changes add up,” said Mustafa.


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