by Marion Nestle
Apr 27 2010

16 companies say they will reduce salt

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that sixteen food companies have agreed to join the National Salt Reduction Initiative spearheaded by the city’s health department.  The companies have volunteered to reduce the sodium in their products by 25% within the next five years.  Mostly, they say they will do this by 2012 or 2014 (see summary table).

Nation’s Restaurant News points out that four of these companies are restaurant chains – Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, Subway, and Uno Chicago Grill.  One, Boars Head, is a deli chain.  And some food product companies – Mars, for example – are issuing their own press releases.

This is all good news and should encourage many more companies to take the low-salt pledge.

As the New York Times points out, salt lurks in unexpected places in processed foods.  The article came with a great graphic, well worth a look.

To translate the numbers, recall that salt is 40% sodium.  This means that 400 mg sodium = one gram of salt, 200 mg sodium = half a gram of salt, and 4 grams of salt = 1 teaspoon.

  • Jess

    Or… Eat real food. Pushing the ‘salt is the devil’ mantra just encourages people to buy packaged/processed foods slapped with the ‘low sodium’ sticker whilst thinking it’s a healthy choice. If it’s full of sugars and refined grain, it doesn’t matter if there’s 2 or 2000mcg of sodium – it’s still going to invoke an inflammatory response via blood glucose and therefore arterial health.

  • Tina B

    This is encouraging. As a field salesperson, I cannot carry my lunch and eat on the road. Having more low-salt choices is very helpful.

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  • I wish the public would reduce their intake of processed foods instead.

  • Alyssa

    This is a good first step to improving the health of consumers but what we need are public school health classes to educate students on what the daily intake for food groups are. Instead of assuming that everyone knows that 1,500 mg of sodium per day is a healthy amount to consume we need to educate the youth of what that amount looks like.

  • I heard this on the radio, the graphic really helps to express the hidden salt mines which the radio could not quite convey! good news for us new yorkers!

  • I don’t consciously make a huge effort to regulate my salt intake, but I do like to make/cook my own food so that I can be mostly aware of what goes into what I am eating. However, I simply don’t have the time to make everything…Who knew so much salt would go into products like syrup and pita pockets.

  • Gillian

    Canadian packaged foods are apparently more highly salted than in many other countries. I wonder if we will attempt any improvements.

  • Cathy Richards

    Is this voluntary sodium reduction going to be as effective as the voluntary sugar reduction and child advertising restrictions?

    Sounds to me like a ploy to forestall legislation for sodium reduction.

    In the UK the government spelled out in great detail how they wanted sodium reductions to be done across the entire food & beverage industry. It was voluntary but they said “do it, or legislation will come”. It worked.

    In Canada, our federal voluntary trans reduction guidelines had some effect, but it was food labelling and media awareness that had the greater effect. Once one cookie company went trans free, the others had to follow in order to compete. BUT it only worked with packaged foods in grocery stores, it didn’t work in restaurants or bakeries. British Columbia has legislated trans reduction in licensed food premises — that’s working! But no federal legislation, yet.

    If companies/individuals can’t govern themselves, then Big G Government has a role to play. Maybe this salt declaration will work and Big G can watch and applaud. Maybe….

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  • Pete

    @ Cathy: YES!

    The politics is enough to make you sicker than ecoli. Oh look at the good they are doing… please, while they continue to market the worst of the worst ingredients to kids on a dialy basis. I get baby steps, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There can be sweeping change. If it were profitable enough Big Food would be all over it. But apparently health is not a big enough motivator.

  • Lynn

    Getting the government involved in what I chose to eat is insane. I am offended by the thought of it. I take responsibility for my own weight, blood sugar, blood pressure. What happens with those are the cause of no one but me. I think we ought to let everyone decide for themselves, parents for their children. Its time we stop enabling people to point a finger and the government to waste money.

  • ET Addison

    It would be interesting to see if this improves anyone’s health.

    Or it’s just one of those feel-good ‘look what we’re doing for the world’ things.

    Or maybe that is really the point; to invoke the puritan ethic. “I don’t care what the data says, we should reduce salt. We all eat too much salt. Shame on us. We are weak. If we reduce salt, it may not have any effect on our health at all, but we are doing a good thing by reducing salt, because reducing salt is a good thing, because people like salt, and by gum they shouldn’t.

    Which, I think , is the real point here. Do something ‘wonderful’ and never mind if it has any effect on anything whatsoever.

  • Cathy Richards

    The proposed salt restrictions have been tested by numerous economists and by other countries and shown to be a cost savings measure for businesses due to reduced illness costs (sick days, lost productivity, less investment in training replacement staff), and lower health care/rehabilitation premiums. Additional benefits are reduced public health care costs.

    It’s really good that you are careful about what you eat. We need more people like you! These restrictions would make it even easier for you, as well as for people that aren’t as responsible as you are. In the long run, it helps you if these less responsible people are assisted in having healthier lifestyles — your tax dollars can be spent on other things that will enhance your quality of life, and your paycheque will stretch further (theoretically) if businesses/manufacturers have lower human resource costs.

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  • USMC8541

    My Kitchen. My business. I guess government intervention depends on which orifice you’re putting stuff in. I am perfectly capable of handling my own diet, Thank you.