Uruguay declares war on ketchup

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After legalizing weed, Uruguay is now setting its sights on another substance that causes real damage to addicts: salt.

In an effort to force people to eat healthily, the South American country has decided to yank salt, ketchup and mayonnaise from all restaurant tables.

The move is part of an aggressive anti-sodium campaign underway in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. A cattle-growing nation with more cows than people, Uruguay is home to some of the world’s most enthusiastic beef-eaters. And Uruguayans love nothing more than than sprinkling a dash (or two or six) of salt on their barbecued beef, or just about any other food for that matter.


But health officials say all that extra salt, plus an explosion in the consumption of American-style processed foods, is taking a huge health toll in heart-related illnesses, child obesity and hypertension. Nearly 40 percent of Uruguay’s 3.4 million population now suffers from hypertension, according to the Ministry of Health.


“We have to stimulate a change in our eating habits,” says Pablo Anzalone, the director of public health for the Montevideo city government. “Uruguayans now consume about 9 grams of sodium per person, that’s double what the United Nations recommends.”


The anti-salt campaign is a much more hands-on approach than those that have cropped up in the United States. The New York City government under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose attempt to ban big sodas fizzled, led ad campaigns in recent years urging New Yorkers to be more vigilant about sodium levels in packaged foods.

Two years ago, health officials in Mexico gently encouraged restaurant owners to take salt shakers off their tables, too. But few complied.


The zero-tolerance approach in Uruguay is a reflection of the country’s social liberalism. Uruguay is known as one of Latin America’s most progressive countries, and was among the region’s first to allow same-sex marriages and legalize marijuana. The country has also passed tough anti-smoking legislation.

The no-salt law in the Uruguayan capital was implemented with the backing of Montevideo’s business leaders. Under the law, restaurants can still provide customers with salt, ketchup or mayonnaise, but only if they ask for it in hushed tones. The law also says that menus must include warnings about salt consumption and restaurants have to make low-sodium alternatives available to customers.


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