Reaction to the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would work to reduce salt in Americans’ diets sparked a lot of discussion about how far the government should go. For now, the FDA is working on developing plans that would allow manufacturers to comply voluntarily, and many were already taking steps to reduce salt.
Have sodium and food reversed roles?
The average person only needs about 1,500 mg. of sodium daily. The average American consumes almost twice that much. American’s have known to cut back on salt consumption for decades, but the majority of salt consumed is not added at the table by consumers. According to a story posted by The New York Times, about 75 percent of salt comes from processed foods. Salt is added to foods by manufacturers and by restaurants as a flavor enhancer. A government-commissioned report reveals that perhaps 100,000 premature deaths a year are from sodium overload and states that salt amounts in some grocery and restaurant foods should be declared unsafe.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, posted alarming amounts of sodium in some restaurant foods:
- Chili’s Jalapeno Smokehouse Burger, with Jalapeno Ranch dressing and a side of fries has 6,460 mg of sodium — more than four day’s worth in one meal or almost three teaspoons.
- Chili’s black bean soup has 1,480 mg. of sodium — almost an entire day’s worth for many people.
Such high sodium content in foods makes me wonder if salt’s purpose is no longer merely to enhance the flavor of food. It’s as if salt has become the primary flavor to mask a lack of flavor in many foods.
Several years ago, I gave myself a pat on the back after giving up sugary carbonated beverages. I’d consumed one to two carbonated drinks a day for most of my life. That’s over twice the American Heart Associations (AHA) daily recommended limit of 100 calories.
Following that success, I believed anything was possible, so I began to gradually eliminate processed foods from my diet. All the while, I continued to eat deserts regularly, add sugar to my tea , coffee and cereal — and even increased the “dosage” a little. I was convinced that this small amount of sugar was negligible compared to the sugar I once consumed by drinking sugary carbonated beverages and eating processed foods. One day, while placing a new 5-pound bag of sugar into my grocery cart, I realized that I had begun purchasing that much every two to three weeks. I didn’t know that the AHA’s recommended daily limit for added sugar for women was 25 grams or less, and that I was consuming up to 57 grams daily. When sugar was concealed within the processed foods I ate, it had been easy to ignore. But staring down into my grocery cart, I knew that a 5-pound bag of sugar every two weeks was too much for one person.
Several months ago, in a last-ditch effort to reduce my risk for heart-disease, I stopped adding sugar to my food, I’ve avoided eating processed foods, and I have deserts only on occasion. I finally understand that my craving was never for carbonated beverages, a particular processed food, or even deserts, but rather for the regular sugar fixes those foods had been providing me all day, every day for many years.
In addition to sugar, another white granular substance used to enhance the flavor of food is in the news – it’s salt. Many people have cut-back or quit adding salt to prepared foods where possible and limited their consumption of processed foods high in sodium. But according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the average American is still consuming almost twice as much sodium as the recommended daily limit, with 77% of sodium coming from processed foods.
FDA’s ten-year plan
The story also reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning an initiative that will require manufacturers to gradually reduce the amount of sodium added to processed foods over a 10-year span. This would allow Americans to become accustomed to the taste of foods as salt is gradually decreased.
Recommended sodium limits
To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting sodium to 1,500 mg daily. The average american consumes 3,435 mg daily. To put things in greater perspective, a teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Campbells Healthy Request chicken noodle soup has 120 calories and 410 mg sodium per 1-cup serving, almost a third of the 1,500 mg daily limit.
Sales for many processed foods would likely suffer without a gradual reduction in salt, so I don’t expect this to be an easy task for the FDA, manufacturers or consumers. Even with a gradual reduction in sodium, some foods may never be palatable without salt. There’s the question of whether inherently salty foods like pickles would need to comply. I’m wondering about olives. Change isn’t going to be easy, but change we must.
A study published yesterday by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) concludes that a correlation exists between dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels among U.S. adults.
The culprit: added sugars
The study defines added sugars as caloric sweeteners added to processed foods by manufacturers or added to prepared foods by consumers to make foods more desirable. Sugar added to oatmeal, tea and coffee; sugary drinks, such Coke and Pepsi, and most processed foods meet the description of “dietary added sugars.” Although complex carbohydrates found naturally in fruits and vegetables, such as corn, beets and bananas, ultimately break down and become chemically similar to added sugars, they are not the same as dietary added sugars.
Trans fats and cholesterol have been known to increase the risk of heart disease by collecting along artery walls and eventually hardening into plaque. Although exactly how is not understood, it’s been known that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes a lipid profile that correlates with increased risk for heart disease.
A balanced diet is essential
That doesn’t mean carbohydrates can be eliminated from your diet to reduce your risk of heart disease; they are essential for good health for the energy and nutrients they provide. Added dietary sugars increase total carbohydrate consumption to unhealthy levels without adding any nutritional value. The answer is to eat a healthy diet with balanced portions of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Added dietary sugars upset the balance because they increase carbohydrate levels and they lack nutrients.
Sugar under a different name
Check the sugar listing on the nutritional facts panel and read the list of ingredients for processed and packaged foods. It’s surprising how often added dietary sugar can be found — it’s even in ketchup and mayonnaise. But it’s not usually listed as “sugar” in the ingredient list. This About.com article has a handy list words for added dietary sugar to lookout for in ingredient lists:
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
- Dehydrated Cane Juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Rice Syrup
- Sorghum or sorghum syrup
- Turbinado Sugar
Make sure that packaged and processed foods don’t foil your efforts to maintain a heart-healthy diet. Unless you read and understand the nutrition facts label, you could be consuming more fat, salt and sugar on a regular basis that you realize.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting the public health, which includes ensuring that the nation’s foods are safe, wholesome and sanitary. This includes regulating food labeling and deciding what information must appear on food packaging and which information is not permissible or misleading.
Scan the label
The nutrition facts label found on packaged and processed foods is required by the FDA and has all the information necessary to help maintain a heart-healthy diet. At first glance, it might seem like it would take too long to read the label each time you purchased a packaged item. Learning which information to focus on and where to find it makes it easier. After a few times, scanning the label for the most important information only takes a second or two. I focus on just a few key items when I’m pressed for time:
- Serving Size — The entire package is not always one serving!
- Calories — Lists the calories in each serving.
- Total Fat — Saturated fats and trans fats are included in this section
- Cholesterol — Found directly below total fat.
- % Daily Value — Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Your calorie intake may be more or less, but simply following this average will keep you in line without needing to calculate your precise requirements.
For more detailed information, visit the FDA’s Web site.