The British Food Standards Agency is about to take on the high amount of salt in processed foods. Leading cereal makers are not happy about this. They don’t the think the campaign is appropriate because cereals account for “only” 5% of the salt in British diets. Salt reduction is the new frontier of concerns about health. Expect to hear lots more about how much of it is in processed and restaurant foods this year.
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Center for Science in the Public Interest has just sued Denny’s for failing to disclose the amount of salt in its fast foods. I heard about this from a reporter from Nation’s Restaurant News who thought the suit was absurd. Everyone knows Denny’s food isn’t healthy, she suggested. Maybe, but I had no idea how much salt the foods contained, and I’m supposed to know such things.
The figures that follow refer to the sodium content. Sodium is 40% of salt (the other 60% is chloride) so 4,000 mg sodium is equivalent to 10,000 mg salt (10 grams). The standard recommendation for healthy people is 2,300 mg sodium per day. People with hypertension are supposed to restrict sodium to 1,500 mg. With that said, try these examples and remember, this is sodium:
- 2,580 mg Moons Over My Hammy sandwich (ham, egg, cheese)
- 4,120 mg Spicy Buffalo Chicken Melt with regular fries
- 5,690 mg Meat Lover’s Scramble (eggs, bacon, sausage, bacon)
I see this as a flat-out issue of consumer choice. If people want more salt, they can always add it at the table, but those of us want less salt don’t have a choice at all. We are stuck with what is served to us and if we don’t know how much salt the food contains (and taste isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of amount), we have no choice about the amount we are eating.
Litigation is not my favorite public health strategy but in this situation it seems like the only current option. Voluntary salt reduction isn’t happening across the board, the FDA is up to its ears in food safety problems, so there is a huge vacuum waiting to be filled. I will be interested to see what happens with this suit, and I’m not as convinced as the Nations Restaurant News reporter that it will be so easy to dismiss out of hand.
Later addition: I’ve just seen this from the industry-sponsored American Council on Science and Health, which thinks the CSPI lawsuit frivolous, to say the least: “Maybe [CSPI's] Michael Jacobson doesn’t want the public to have the choice of what he considers unhealthy food.” That says it all!
I’ll bet that a study published by the American Association of Wine Economists will be a top candidate for this year’s IgNobel Prize (the prize given for “research that makes you laugh and then think”). Investigators somehow convinced a bunch of volunteers to undergo a blind taste test of liver pâtés and dog food. Participants knew that one of the samples was dog food, but not which one. They gave the dog food the lowest marks on taste, but only 17% identified it as dog food. Everyone else thought it was just bad pâté. This must say something about the average American palate, alas. To address that question, Stephen Colbert did his own taste trial on camera. Too salty, he says. Indeed.
I seem to have missed posting a couple of columns from the San Francisco Chronicle:
January 6, 2009: This one, “ Fussy eaters–they learn by example,” was in response to a question about getting kids to eat real food.
December 17, 2008: I had so many responses to the November 17 column on salt intake I answered a bunch of follow-up questions in the next one, “The nitty-gritty on sodium intake.”
I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks. Enjoy!
This time, it’s about salt and how difficult it is to go on a low-salt diet when 80% or so of the salt in American diets is already in food before it even gets to you.
I’ve always said that the research on salt is complicated, not least because it is so difficult to separate out the effects of salt itself from the junk food company it keeps. So a new British study provides some confirming evidence: kids who eat a lot of salt also drink a lot of soft drinks. Guilt by association! The effects of salt on hypertension also might be influenced by everything else in the diet. That’s why it’s so difficult to make sense of research on one dietary factor at a time.