By 1 January 2019, 100 g of bread must contain no more than 1.3 g of salt, falling to 1.2 g salt by January 2020, 1.1 g by January 2021 and 1 g salt per 100 g of bread by January 2022.
According to government data, bread and toast are the biggest contributors to the Portuguese population’s salt intake.
The draft law will cover all types of bread produced or marketed in Portugal, irrespective of the country in which they were made.
Specialty breads that contain added meat preparations and sausage-meat are not bound by the maximum levels.
The new rules come as part of Portugal’s National Health Plan, which aims to reduce the average amount of salt in "main foodstuffs" with high levels of salt by 10 %.
According to data from the country’s latest National Food Survey, carried out between 2015 and 2016, the Portuguese population has an average daily salt intake of 7.3 g. This is around 50% higher than that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Just over 65% of women and 85.9% of men have a sodium intake above the recommended amount.
The draft regulation reads: “Excessive salt intake by the population is one of the greatest public health risks in Portugal and is linked to the development of a range of chronic diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, which are currently the leading cause of death in Portugal."
It adds: “The formulations for bread developed in Portugal, which have a salt content lower than the maximum currently permitted under the legislation in force, demonstrate that it is possible to carry out a reduction progressively, without affecting consumption and the food safety of the product.”
The law enforces and expands a voluntary commitment signed in October last year by the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health and food industry trade groups from the bakery and pastry sectors in certain public institutions such as schools.
It also builds on a recent raft of measures to curb the country’s rising obesity rates. A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages came into force in January this year while the government also recently announced a tax on salty snacks.