With the Help of the Food Industry, We Can Tackle the Salt Crisis Together10 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Americans consume way more sodium than is recommended and necessary for healthy living! I have said this before, and it is a fact worth repeating.
For many American adults, daily sodium intake should be no more than 1,500 mg. But on average, American adults eat more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is more than double the recommended limit.
Sure, we all need some sodium in our diet. Sodium is an essential mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. But we don’t need nearly as much sodium as most of us are consuming. Too much sodium in the diet increases our risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), and having hypertension increases our risk of developing heart disease and stroke - two of the leading causes of death among Americans.
And this salt crisis, as I like to put it, is not limited to the United States.
“Globally, more than 1.5 million CVD [cardiovascular disease] related deaths every year can be attributed to excess dietary salt intake,” according to one source.
So how do we fix this salt crisis?
“Even if you throw your salt shaker away, you may still be taking in a lot of sodium — especially if you eat processed or prepared foods. In fact, the majority of sodium in the daily American diet comes from such foods, which are often found on supermarket shelves and in restaurant meals,” reports the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
To give you even more perspective on how much of our salt consumption comes from the foods we don’t prepare ourselves, take a look at this break down from the American Heart Association of where the majority of our sodium consumption comes from:
- 65% comes from food bought in retail stores
- 25% comes from restaurants
- 10% comes from home cooking and using our salt shaker at home
We are the gatekeepers of our own health, and we should perhaps take more responsibility to cut back on salt. But the food industry should shoulder some of the responsibility as well.
And this is exactly what the FDA has been implying for some time. In 2016, the FDA issued draft guidance providing voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry.
“The draft short-term (2-year) targets seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day. The long-term (10-year) targets seek to reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. The targets, which cover nearly 150 food categories, are intended to complement many existing efforts by food manufacturers, restaurants and food service operations to reduce sodium in foods,” reports the FDA.
And now, new research is demonstrating how the FDA’s proposed voluntary salt targets could greatly benefit the United States from both a health and economic standpoint.
According to one report discussing the new research, a previous study “...found that for the whole US population the optimal reformulation scenario, 100 percent compliance with the 10-year FDA targets, could prevent approximately 450,000 CVD cases, gain 2 million Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) and produce discounted cost savings of approximately $40 billion over a 20 year period.”
Take a minute to digest that.
“Despite this, Congress has temporarily blocked the FDA from implementing voluntary industry targets for sodium reduction in processed foods, the implementation of which could cost the industry around $16 billion over 10 years,” the report says.
Well if that sounds like a lot of money to you and more than enough reason to not implement this proposed sodium policy, listen to this: the American Heart Association reports that in 2016, cardiovascular disease cost America $555 billion. On top of this, CVD is expected to cost America a whopping 1.1 trillion by 2035!
"Excess dietary salt kills people. Salt reduction has therefore been recommended by the World Health Organisation as a ‘best buy.’ Around three quarters of salt is hidden in packaged foods before we buy them. That makes it very hard for people to cut their intake,” said one of the co-leads on the study.
So there you have it. Yes, we have to watch the salt! But it would also be great if changes were made in the food industry so that when we go out to eat at a restaurant, for example, we are not hit with a salt bomb (sometimes without even knowing it). It would also be great if we could buy our kids a snack off the grocery store shelves without worrying we are giving them too much salt.
Ultimately, we have to be proactive about our own personal sodium intake.
So how can you be proactive?
Here are a few tips:
- Honestly, avoid processed foods as much as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid them completely, but try not to make them a daily or regular part of your diet. These are usually any foods in the grocery store that come in a box or package such as chips, crackers, cookies, rolls and even some cereals (read the nutrition labels and look for any labels that may say low-sodium). Stick to whole, natural foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods are very rich in nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that will help you maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Stick to homemade. Always try to make your own tomato sauces and salad dressings. Store bought sauces and dressings are often rich in added sodium. Again, always look at nutrition labels.
- Learn to not be a salt worshipper. Our taste buds have become so accustomed to salt, that we may find it hard to ditch the salt shaker. We may also find ourselves craving salty foods, like potato chips. The good news is your taste buds may change if you start cutting sodium from your diet, and you may actually find salty, processed foods to be not too appetizing. (Some people may also just naturally be less able to taste salt, making them more likely to add more salt to their food than usual. If you feel you fall into this category, it is especially important for you to be proactive about your sodium intake).
- Be a master of salt-free cooking. In my opinion, one of the best ways to ensure that the foods you prepare and cook at home are tasty is to use aromatic spices and herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, cumin, sage, dill, ginger and more. Not only will these ingredients enhance the flavor of home-cooked meals and help you reduce the amount of salt you use, but they also contain many essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, folate, phosphorus and more.
- Speak up and be an informed diner. When you go out to eat at a restaurant, there is nothing wrong with asking your server to ask the chef to go easy on the salt with your dish. Ask your server if items like mashed potatoes are made with a lot of salt. If they are, ask if the chef can make this separately for you without salt. There is also nothing wrong with saying I have high blood pressure and have to watch my salt. After all, restaurants accommodate food allergies, so why shouldn’t they accommodate health issues? Take advantage of online resources such as HealthyDiningFinder and other websites that list nutritional value of dishes at popular restaurants. And check out the 10 saltiest restaurant foods in America. Some of these dishes contain nearly 5,000 mg of sodium! That’s just plain unacceptable.
- Don’t be fooled by the sweet. Remember many store bought baked goods, some yogurts and other sweets contain a lot of sodium. Just because it doesn’t taste salty doesn’t mean it isn’t!
I hope this was informative and will encourage you to be proactive about reducing salt in your daily diet. Remember, your blood pressure will thank you!
Enjoy your healthy life!
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