by Marion Nestle
Jan 23 2010

The new salt study

The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has an article from investigators at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine (where I worked from 1976 to 1986) and Columbia using computer models to predict the effect of relatively small reductions in salt intake on health.  Their conclusion:

Modest reductions in dietary salt could substantially reduce cardiovascular events and medical costs and should be a public health target.

The article also is discussed in an accompanying editorial, and was the topic of a long discussion in the New York Times.

I never know what to make of computer models, but one thing is clear: many people consume two or three times the amount of salt recommended.  It’s hard to avoid doing so.  Australian investigators surveyed processed foods and found more than 60% of them to contain salt above recommended levels.  Ours are unlikely to be any different.

While we are on the subject of salt in processed foods:  Juli Mandel Sloves of Campbell Soup correctly points out that my observation that the company’s kids’ soups contain 480 mg sodium per 4 ounce serving is incorrect.  A serving of soup is 8 ounces, not 4.  I see how I made this mistake.  The label states that a serving is half a cup (4 ounces) and that one serving contains 480 mg sodium.   But you are supposed to dilute what’s in the can with another can of water.  That makes it 480 mg sodium per 8 ounces, the same amount of salt but diluted.  The confusing serving sizes are another good reason to rethink and redesign the Nutrition Facts label.

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