Capital removes salt shakers from tables of city’s eateries to lower average salt intake, which is double recommended level
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Thu 11 Apr 2013 21.35 BSTFirst published on Thu 11 Apr 2013 21.35 BST
Salt shaker in a restaurant in Mexico City
Salt shaker in a restaurant in Mexico City. Approximately 31% of Mexicans have high blood pressure, for which high salt intake is a factor. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP
With governments all over the world trying to get people to eat less salt, the local authorities in Mexico City are trying a particularly direct method – removing shakers from tables.
The Less Salt, More Health campaign has the backing of the capital’s restaurant owners association and sets out to encourage diners to stop and think about their salt intake by making them have to ask for it.
“We want to raise awareness of the damage that we do to ourselves when we put salt on our dishes without even tasting the food first,” the capital’s health minister, Armando Ahued, said at the campaign launch last week.
Ahued said approximately 31% of Mexicans have high blood pressure, and average salt intake in the country was about 11g per day. This is around double the level recommended by the World Health Organisation for healthy adults, and far higher than the diets imposed on people with hypertension – many of whom go undiagnosed in Mexico because of a general paucity of preventative medical care.
Hypertension in Mexico is part of a potent cocktail of lifestyle-related health problems that are stretching the public health services beyond their limits, despite once being considered the preserve of the developed world.
Rampant diabetes represents the most acute problem, currently killing around 70,000 Mexicans a year. Around a quarter of all men and a fifth of all women in the country are now at risk of developing the disease that is closely associated with ballooning national waistlines. Obesity rates in Mexico are close to those in the US.
Experts blame genetic propensity and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, along with world-beating consumption rates of fizzy drinks and processed food.
More Coca-Cola is consumed per capita in Mexico than anywhere in the world, and even children in isolated rural communities eat worrying amounts of junk food, often bought with anti-poverty handouts.
In terms of salt, the growing dependence on processed food compounds the problems already associated with a high-salt cuisine and risks making the non-obligatory salt shaker campaign seem painfully superficial.
“Everything we cook has salt in it,” Cecilia Solís said as she prepared gorditas or “little fatties” – maize stuffed with fried pork skin and cheese – at the roadside food stall she has run for the past 17 years.
Despite the fact that her tiny informal business is not officially included in the drive to banish salt from restaurants, Solís is doing her bit by keeping her shaker out of view.
The same cannot be said of a nearby workers’ cafe that, as he got things ready for the day’s first customers, Timoteo Dominguez insisted was committed to the campaign he called “a very good idea”. Half an hour later the establishment was ready for business, shakers on every table.