Americans like their salt. It enhances flavor and is important to the processing and preserving of the foods we eat. Now, this commodity is under attack from a variety of critics. Does this mean we will be consuming bland diets that offer little enjoyment or the shelf-life of foods will be much shorter? Why would anyone interfere with what we eat and how we season it? Is this an omen?
An arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), claims that lower sodium intake will reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes among Americans. Currently we consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, an average of 1.5 teaspoons. The IOM claims this is double the amount they recommend.
The results we might expect from lower our salt intake varies, depending on who does the estimating. Reuters carried a report from Katz and Company claiming that, “Cutting salt intake by nearly 10% could prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and strokes over decades and save the United States $32 billion in health care costs.”
However, Associated Press (AP) quoted the New York City Health Commissioner as saying, “If we reduce our sodium intake to recommended levels, we would prevent 44,000 to 92,000 deaths per year in the United States and save $10 to $24 billion in health care costs per year.”
The Salt Institute stated in USA Today, “There are no historic records of consuming the low sodium recommended by the IOM, [therefore] compelling the entire population to consume the low salt levels effectively would place everyone in the largest clinical trial ever carried out, without our knowledge or consent.” So there you have it, or do you?
While the finger pointing is going on, one New York Assemblyman introduced a bill which reads, “No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption of customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises.” However, the bill does not restrict people from adding salt if they wish, at least for now. The City of New York is suggesting a voluntary reduction of 25% in sodium content over the next 5 years by restaurants and food processors.
Trying to get ahead of the anti-salt zealots, food brands such as Healthy Choice, Chef Boyardee and Uncle Ben’s will reduce sodium by 25% by 2015. Many major companies, including General Mills and Kraft Foods plan sodium reductions in their products, to a greater or lesser degree. The 5 year timeline allows consumers to get used to the change in taste gradually, rather than all at once.
Are these changes, which are encouraged by The White House, satisfactory to you? Or do you get the feeling that government, while promising to stay out of our bedrooms, is now focusing its attention on our kitchens?