Tag Archives: salt

Salt Wars

The workshop for school food service workers (discover.cook.nourish; part of the CPPW grant) has an accompanying  workbook with about 33 recipes in it.  A group of volunteer master’s in nutrition students from Bastyr University calculated a nutritional profile for each recipe as well as a retail cost per serving.  Seemed like good information to add.  But honestly, I was nervous about the sodium content for a couple of the recipes – like Vegetable and Chicken Teriyaki.

salt you will eat no more

Salt no more you will eat!

The fear comes from the battles being fought against salt (sodium chloride) in food.  The new USDA food guidelines recommend that children and people over 50 should consume 1500 mg or less daily.  Why?  Because 70% of the American population is at risk for high blood pressure and hypertension is correlated with high salt intake.  Americans currently eat about 3,400 mg of sodium daily.  It is important to note that 70- 80% of that  sodium intake comes from packaged food and restaurant food.

This guideline puts a real crimp in the typical school lunch which relies heavily on processed foods to keep costs low (see “Please Don’t Condition my Dough“).  No picnic for the makers of packaged food either.  Salt is a low cost way to create taste and texture when your base ingredients have none.  If food manufacturers had to replace salt (lower the sodium content) they would have to resort to more expensive ingredients and lose profits.  Higher food costs are not an option for school lunch programs either, who are not generating profits and operate within a very tight budget.

But wait a minute.  Hold the no-salt phone. Apparently hypertension has been increasing for years without any change in sodium intake.  No kidding.  According to a report in Food Navigator, “rising obesity rates may be a more important factor for hypertension than rising sodium consumption” claim the authors of a new study that notes US sodium intake has remained relatively constant over the past 50 years.  Then why is the USDA recommending these extremely low amounts of sodium?  I don’t know. Is a symptom being addressed rather than the cause (people consuming too much sodium-laden junk food because the ingredients come from subsidized crops so the food is cheap; weight gain from eating these foods cascading into other health problems such as hypertension and diabetes)???  I have so many questions.

Marion Nestle, PhD,  feels that the whole salt thing is a consumer choice issue.  If you want to keep your sodium intakes lower (and your weight reasonable) don’t buy Cheetos and Coke.  In her thread of posts on salt Marion also quotes Judith Shulevitz’s piece in The New Republic, “Is salt the new crack?”  Ms. Shulevitz writes:
“We need to stop ingesting all these substances in ludicrous amounts…We need to be taught not just what’s in processed food, but how historically anomalous its manufacture and our consumption of it are. We need to understand the mechanisms that addict us to it. We need to relearn how to prepare real meals, and we need to start rethinking the social dynamics of that chore (it can’t just be up to wives and mothers anymore).”

Yup.  Let’s cook.  Less than 5% of our sodium intake comes from salt added to foods prepared from scratch at home. That’s why half of the workshop for school service workers is hands-on cooking.  That’s one of the many reasons for launching Cookus Interruptus.

Do you worry about salt intake? And if you do, what do you do about keeping sodium intake low?  What do you think about the guideline to keep school lunch food under 1500 mg?  Will that help?

(from Cynthia)

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.