China losing taste for salt, though average intake is still sky high

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags: United nations, Food

While China’s salt intake dropped by over one-fifth in a decade, it is still one of the world’s heaviest consumers, according to a Unicef-backed study that also found the country’s overall sodium intake was nearly three times WHO-recommended safe levels.

The research, jointly carried out by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund and China’s official food safety institution, found that average salt consumption fell by 22% between 2000 and 2011 to 9.2g per person each day—still twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation as safe.

Its findings, published in JAMA​, recorded the dietary salt consumption of households in 12 provinces, covering about half of the Chinese population. 

Over the same period, sodium consumption, which includes non-salt seasonings and condiments like soy sauce and pickled vegetables, dropped by 12% to 5.6g—against the 2g daily maximum recommended by the WHO.

Although salt added during food preparation has decreased over time, total sodium intake has not​,” wrote lead author Yongning Wu, of the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment in Beijing, and colleagues. 

These findings update studies using different methodologies in the 1990s and 2002, and confirm that simply weighing dietary salt intake underestimates sodium consumption in China​.”

Noncommunicable diseases are increasing globally, with major socioeconomic implications. The WHO has proposed noncommunicable disease-related targets, including a 30% reduction in salt and sodium intake to reduce risk of hypertension. According to a 2013 study published in the BMJ, China still lags behind only Central Asia in terms of global average daily sodium intake.

China’s diet is changing and refrigeration is replacing salt for food preservation​,” the authors wrote in their findings, though sodium intake remains high due to the “addition of salt and other seasonings during food preparation, and increasing consumption of processed food​.”

Related topics: Markets, Asian tastes, China, East Asia

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