March 13, 2009 / 4:10 PM / 11 years ago

Portugal aims to cut stroke deaths by curbing salt

LISBON (Reuters) - Alarmed by high death rates from strokes in Portugal, deputies from the ruling Socialist party submitted a bill to parliament Friday to slash the use of salt in bread, blamed for many blood pressure problems.

A baker walks past bread inside a bakery in downtown Rome in this file photo from September 18, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The country’s key dietary staple — dried salted cod that is rehydrated and cooked in many different ways — has made the Portuguese accustomed to using more salt in food than other nations, and bakers add generous amounts to their dough.

Bread is one of the main sources of salt intake and many Portuguese eat it with every meal.

“Portugal currently has one of the highest mortality rates from strokes in Europe, which is about double that observed in Spain and three times that in France,” the draft bill reads.

According to the Portuguese Society of High Blood Pressure, a reduction of salt intake by one gramme a day on average would save 2,650 lives per year. Strokes kill up to 20,000 people a year, accounting for some 20 percent of deaths in Portugal.

The document also cited a recent study by the Sciences and Health Faculty of Fernando Pessoa University as saying daily salt intake in Portugal was about double the 5.8 grammes a day limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

The document links excessive salt consumption to high blood pressure, which in turn causes strokes, generally reduces life expectancy and means high medication costs for the state.

The most popular type of bread in Portugal has between 18 and 21 grammes of salt per kg. Even healthier wholemeal bread has 15 grammes on average.

The bill calls for salt content to be cut to a maximum of 14 grammes per kg, or by about 25 percent, introducing fines of up to 5,000 euros ($6,435) for exceeding this. It also envisages compulsory labeling of products with high salt content.

Socialists have the majority of seats in parliament and the bill is likely to pass without a hitch.

Reporting by Andrei Khalip, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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