Shake the Salt Spin

Last week one of our viewers, Chris,  expressed concern about a NY Times article called “Big Benefits Are Seen from Eating Less Salt”   The article referred to a report from The New England Journal of Medicine concluding that lowering salt in the diet by even a small amount could reduce heart disease and strokes.

saltInstead of banging heads against walls trying to get consumers to eat less salt, efforts are being made to get food manufacturers and restaurants to lower the sodium content of their food.  I guess that’s a good idea. But wait.  The sodium and sugar in fast food and restaurant chain dishes is the only flavor present.  If you cut it, it’s going to taste bad.  We could create catastrophic repercussions like we did with the no-fat era.

In the late 70’s when the proclamation came that Americans needed to lower their fat intake from 40% of the diet to 30% what happened?  First, we did it.  How?  By switching former brand loyalty to new fat-free or lower fat brands.  We choked down the less satisfying cookies and yogurts and soups and did we get thinner?  Healthier?  Nope.  Because food manufacturers had to make the foods edible enough that we’d buy them, they added sugar (HFCS).  Snackwells proudly strutted 2 grams of fat while they upped the carbohydrate content to 13 grams by adding more sugar.

Then what happened? Well the prevalence of obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes soared during the fat-free campaign as we took aim and shot but at the wrong target. (the real culprit is the sugar, more on that in another post). If they take the salt out of food, I shake in my boots anticipating what cheap chemical might  be added to keep Americans buying food off of the grocer’s shelf. And what that chemical might do to our metabolism.

Salt is a magical ingredient.  It draws the liquid in food out, bringing flavors to the surface.  That’s why you salt vegetables while cooking if you want them to become limp and juicy and you don’t salt them until just before serving if you want them crisp and perky.  Bland complex carbohydrate foods like potatoes, whole grains and beans are almost tasteless without that little toss of salt.

It’s not that we need to quit salting our beans, it’s that we need to quit buying things that come in a can or a box or a drive-through.  Adding sodium and sugar are the trickster ways that food manufacturers have of not only keeping food palatable but creating cravings.  Foods that we don’t think of as salty ARE if they are purchased packaged.  Corn flakes (351 mg sodium), Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits (633 mg. sodium) Mc Donald’s Grilled Chicken club (1690 mg. – higher than a Big Mac).

But you guys know all this.  Just thought I’d remind you that you’re right.  Right on.  Movers and salt shakers.

9 thoughts on “Shake the Salt Spin

  1. A friend of mine has recently started reading the nutrition labels on her food and was telling me how surprised she was to learn that maple syrup is high in sodium.

    “Real maple syrup?” I asked.
    “Yes! My husband loves it on his pancakes. It has tons of sodium in it! I would never have thought that maple syrup would have sodium in it.”
    “That is very surprising.” I said cautiously, “Maybe it’s because it’s so concentrated. Just to be clear, you’re talking about pure maple syrup, not the Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworths stuff?” I queried.
    “Oh, I guess it was one of those. I never buy pure maple syrup; it’s too expensive.”

    In my opinion, the high sodium content is not even the scariest thing about those lesser syrups. I start with the ingredient list first, or better yet, with food that doesn’t need one!

  2. I just learned yesterday that makers of reduced sodium soup use Potassium Chloride as a salt substitute, which is dangerous for people with kidney disease for sure, but could potentially be even more dangerous than salt for anybody– too much potassium in your blood stream can stop your heart! Maybe we can stop blaming one element of food and look at overall food quality. What a concept!

  3. OK – so i saw Oprah today with M. Pollan today – a good interview, I thought – anyone else see it?
    Then I saw Alicia Silverstone author/actress of “The Kind Diet”. People know of that?
    So all this talk about “real food” and then Alicia talks about soy chicken from the freezer section, earth balance “butter”, rice dream ice cream – my question, is this “real food”? No one brought that up…. thoughts?
    Thanks- Greg

    1. Earth balance, rice dream and soy chicken are not traditional foods that have been shown to nourish humans for 100’s of years. That’s my concern. With each, a different issue. Earth Balance is made from refined seed oils. Soy chicken – well I’d need to read the label but if it is made from isolated soy protein, there’s nothing natural about it. Rice dream is less problematic. I’m not sure that a vegan diet focused on processed food is a healthier lifestyle.

  4. Hi Greg,
    I didn’t see Oprah or Alicia. I will try to catch both on the web. Sounds like Alicia is following a vegan diet. The products you mention are certainly questionable if the aim is fresh, simple, traditional food.

  5. firstly, thank you everyone at this site! there are some new yummy recipes. healthy recipes! and lots of good ideas discussed.

    just some thing that others may already know, but i just became aware of:
    because of the large amount of hormone in the soy, it’s not that good for you. in places where it is used often in cooking, it used in very small amounts, as flavoring rather than as main part of menu..
    for diversity, (i’m not vegetarian) we’ve enjoyed using soy products: tofu, tempeh, soy dogs etc.. and now i have drastically cut back. soy is also a huge allergen. seems that lots in our family are allergic to soy..

    oh well. i actually enjoy the variety soy provided..

    1. So many foods, that were once thought of as wholesome, are now considered allergens. In all cases we must consider the quality of the food (freshly made raw milk yogurt vs. pasteurized homogenized non-fat milk) before condemning the food. Then we must look at why people are increasingly sensitive to these foods; refraining from simply treating the symptom (avoiding the food) and searching for the underlying cause.

  6. I am in the Nutrition Masters program at Bastyr University…(How lucky am I to have Cynthia as my instructor!?) We just learned in our Assessment and Therapy class (our professor has done a lot of research on sodium) that humans have a biological need for sodium that when looking at indigenous societies is estimated to be around 3,000 mg/day. The DRI is set well below this level due to the high prevalence of hypertension in the US. We also learned that it is actually the sodium/potassium ratio in the blood is what is important! We can consume significant amounts of sodium as long as we balance it out with plenty of potassium, which is found in fruits and vegetables. 77% of the sodium that we consume comes from processed and fast foods…if we skip the junk food, but we salt our vegetables, we get to enjoy what salt brings to our cooking and stay healthy! 🙂

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