Cargill, a well known and mega-sized food manufacturer, would have you spreading salt on everything from chocolate to ice cream to coffee, according to a recent New York Times article. Health experts, on the other hand, think that if we can get Americans to reduce salt usage, we could reduce incidences of high blood pressure. Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure causes heart disease slowly and insidiously. By cutting down on salt levels in common foods, and getting Americans to stop shaking it on most foods, researchers believe that 150,000 lives a year could be saved.
Mayor Bloomberg, known for his commitment to making New Yorkers healthier, has asked food companies to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their products; so has Michelle Obama. Since most of the salt Americans eat is found in processed foods, the Institute of Medicine has asked the government to force companies to reduce the use of salt in manufacturing. Of course that means the companies, more than likely, will have to replace the salt deficit with more expensive taste enhancers - something that does not garner enthusiasm from a financial perspective. And the truth is that salt does work in direct association with fats and sugars to achieve a pleasing palate taste that makes consumers want more. Salt also helps to mask certain less pleasurable tastes like bitter flavors. Salt also helps to preserve foods, allowing them to remain longer on shelves or in freezers.
From a medical standpoint, over using salt - especially if you are "salt sensitive," means a possible march down the road to high blood pressure which is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Most people are unaware of their hypertension, until they visit the doctor for a routine exam or for another complaint. The new salt guidelines suggest that Americans should target less than 2000 mgs. of salt daily, and some health professionals prefer a 1500 mgs./day limit. That can translate into some slices of deli meat, a serving of soup and some salting of your food. Most Americans will take in far more salt daily - kids included. Some manufacturers who make tomato sauces have cut the salt, replacing the taste elements with vine-ripened tomatoes and certain herbs. This re-formulation approach costs more, and even they concede there is a salt-cutting limit beyond which, the taste of the product will change enough for people to simply no longer like it....nor buy it. And in fact, Kellog presented the Federal Guidelines Advisory Committee with a comment that "lower salt guidelines were incompatible with a palatable diet."
Most food and diet experts recognize the reality that sugar, salt and fats get shifted around in foods according to the current "health concerns," resulting in one ingredient being reduced to placate the naysayers while another is increased, so that taste is maintained. After all, it is all about taste and sales, right?
What can you do?
Continue to read labels and be aware of sodium intake
- Cook more foods yourself so that you control salt, sugar, fats in the foods you eat
- Replace the salt shaker on the table with an "herb shaker"
- Steer clear of notorious high salt foods - deli meats, canned foods, frozen foods, processed foods, fast foods
- Rinse beans and other canned goods to reduce the salt content before eating
- Make sure you know your blood pressure on a regular basis
Published On: July 20, 2010