2014 Sustainability Report: Health Trends and Gradualness
It’s no secret that too much salt and sugar in our diets is liable to affect our health. On the other hand, reducing one’s daily sugar and salt intake may not be simple, considering that most of the salt we consume during the day does not come from the salt shaker – and the same goes for sugar – but from the salt and sugar that hide in natural and processed foods. Ronit Giladi, Strauss Dairies’ dietician, tells us about the steps taken in the past year to reduce the sugar and salt content of our various products.
Reducing sugar and salt has been a necessary move in the local food industry in recent years, in light of similar processes applied by food companies all over the world as a result of public health considerations and following research in the field of preventive nutrition, as well as the obesity epidemic.
Significant processes of reducing sugar quantities, followed by reductions in the salt content of our cheeses (in the past year) have been implemented over the last three years in Strauss Dairies’ products. The Dairies, which are first and foremost committed to the promotion of public health and disease prevention, initiated the move, as we view the reduction of sugar and sodium in our products as a paramount value among the various challenges we face.
As mentioned, the process of reducing the salt and sugar content of the Dairies’ various products began gradually by as early as three years ago. “How did you do it?”, I was asked when asked to write about the move. Well, the answer is that we of course availed ourselves of new technologies and a great deal of know-how (and continue to do so), but at the same time we were meticulous about implementing the process gradually. “Gradually” is the key word in the move’s success. As a result, development processes are implemented in small, measured stages and incrementally, as we did with Activia, Danone, and Yotvata “Choco” chocolate milk.
At the same time, however, it is important to understand that today’s consumers want a change and are even voting with their feet, and they appreciate the efforts being made by the industry and the shown concern for public health. For this reason, consumers should be partners to the process. It is important to understand that today, more than ever before, consumers are aware of health trends and exposed to the media, and they are open and willing to try products that are slightly less sweet or salty.
How much did we actually eliminate?
The result is that over the last three years we significantly reduced the sugar content of our yogurts. For example, in Activia with fruit we reduced sugar by 25%-35%, thus “saving” around 60 tons of sugar. In Danone with fruit the sugar content was lowered by 25% – all in all 70 tons of sugar, and in Actimel we eliminated 21%-25%, thus saving another 517 tons! We are also proud of the reductions we made in our desserts. In Milky and Danny (all flavors) we eliminated 15%-25% of the amount of sugar, saving the Israeli consumer another 250 tons.
In Yotvata Choco drinks a further 30% of the sugar was removed, a total of 512 tons. We also reduced the sugar content in Gamadim and Daniela. In total, by mid-July 2015 we eliminated 1,472 tons of sugar in Strauss Dairies products – around 6 billion calories!
Carbs and salt: awareness of health risks
As the health functionary at Strauss, I am often asked by professionals and consumers about the company's commitment and the strength of its connection to the health trends that are currently taking shape and are gaining momentum today. I think that the facts and figures now being published speak for themselves. We all know that choosing the wrong carbohydrates and increased intake of salt and sugar can adversely affect our health. It is true that carbs, salts and sugars play a central role in the Israeli diet, but awareness of the risks inherent in excess consumption is growing.
It has been established that reducing consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar plays a key role in reducing morbidity with regard to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and hypertension. It is also known that reducing salt intake will help lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. According to the figures of the American Heart Association for 2014, if the average American were to reduce his average salt intake by half there would be a drop of 26% in hypertension cases across the continent, and 26 billion Americans would achieve savings in their healthcare expenses.
Most of us are aware of the disadvantages of white sugar and its connection to diabetes and obesity. Sugar is not a poison, but if it is consumed in too large quantities it is liable to be harmful. The consumption of added sugar in the diet has risen in the past few decades, while at the same time we are less physically active and spend more time at our desks. The combination of these two factors is able to better explain the obesity and rising morbidity. Research recently published in a British medical journal found, among other things, that a slight reduction in sugar intake as part of the participants' daily diet led to significant weight loss of up to 1 kg among adults over a one-year period, without any other change in their lifestyle habits.
As for salt, in 2012 the Ministry of Health launched a national program for reducing sodium intake in Israel, thus joining sodium reduction initiatives in many countries where national programs are in place. All programs are characterized by setting targets and a gradual schedule. Health and nutrition surveys carried out in many countries indicate that most people consume sodium in amounts that are 1.5 to 2 times higher than the recommended amount, and it is estimated that at least 75% of sodium originates in industrialized food, while 10% is naturally present in foods and 15% is added during cooking and while eating, in the form of salt.
In the food industry, salt is mainly used to preserve food and is also naturally present in food components. The main source of the sodium we ingest is food rather than the salt shaker. Generally speaking, sodium is a mineral that is essential to our bodies as it regulates liquid volume, is essential to the transmission of nerve signals, muscular contractions and maintaining a normal heart rate – but it is essential in moderation.
We can start making these small changes in our lives and in our eating habits ourselves, today. The slightest of changes in eating habits can also bring us miraculously closer to the normal body weight and good health we desire.
When the amount of salt is reduced in a single move food is likely to be bland and tasteless, and it is therefore important to reduce salt intake and the consumption of sodium-rich foods gradually and get used to new flavors
Tips for reducing sodium intake from the Ministry of Health's website – Health Services, Department of Nutrition The key word is "gradually".
When the amount of salt is reduced in a single move food is likely to be bland and tasteless, and it is therefore important to reduce salt intake and the consumption of sodium-rich foods gradually and get used to new flavors. Be patient: the process usually takes several months. When shopping for food, read the labels and compare different foods. Prefer similar foods with lower sodium content, such as breakfast cereals, cheeses or breads. The amount of sodium is included in the nutrition labeling.
Reduce your intake of food products with high sodium content as much as possible,
such as cold cuts and meat products and processed and smoked fish, olives and pickles, snack foods, various kinds of crackers, soup powders and seasoning powders, readymade salads, dips and spreads and readymade sauces. At mealtimes, try not to add salt out of habit. Taste the food, and if necessary, add a smaller amount than usual. You can use pepper to add flavor instead of salt, or at least instead of part of it…
In any event, we recommend consulting a clinical dietician to put together a more balanced, healthier diet, even if you aren't overweight. Happy New Year, Chag Sameach and the best of health!