There are things that should not be taken with a pinch of salt. The Bhutanese, generally, consume almost twice the recommended value of salt.
“So what?” some might ask. Salt is one of the major contributors of noncommunicable diseases, otherwise called lifestyle diseases.
Excessive consumption of salt can be damaging to personal health. That’s why the world is observing “salt awareness week” between March 8 and 14.
Globally, over nine million deaths are attributed to the high consumption of salt, which leads to high blood pressure, heart and kidney diseases of more dangerous kinds.
In Bhutan, non-communicable diseases are the biggest killers already.
NCD, including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes accounted for 71 percent of the reported deaths in the country in 2019. According to the annual health bulletin 2020, 33.5 percent of the Bhutanese are overweight and 28 percent suffer from blood pressure issues.
The recommended salt intake, according to the World Health Organization, is less than 5 grams per day, equal to about a teaspoon of salt. But the Bhutanese people, on average, consume almost twice (8.3 grams) the recommended value of salt.
What is more worrying is that the people in rural Bhutan consume more salt. And, salt consumption rate is higher in western parts of the country. Compared with a survey in 2014, salt consumption among the Bhutanese increased significantly in 2019 —11.8 percent rise in 2019 against 7.8 percent in 2014.
Health officials say that people should change their dietary habits. That is not enough. Studies have found and advised us the same for many years now. If more salt in food affects people’s health, why is this message not going powerfully to the people?
Changing food habits, like much else, will take time. More importantly, there has to be consistent and visible efforts from the government and the health sector.
Thankfully, we have a national strategy—national salt reduction strategy (2018-2023)—which aims to decrease salt intake among the population by 15 percent (7.6 grams per day) by 2023.
But then, policies have the habit of dying a natural death on the shelves of bureaucracy.
Bhutan is becoming more urban than it was some decades ago. The kind of food habits that did us good then are no more relevant today. So the message for change must also change.
Saying that consumption of more salt is detrimental to one’s health is not enough. How do we bring about a significant change in the way people choose what they decide to throw into dinner pots will matter.
Education and awareness are important, of course. But, in our case, we need to go beyond these conventional ways because salt is becoming a pinch heavier on our health by the day.