Tag Archives: USDA guidelines

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)