Salt in Moderation

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We need sodium to live—just not very much.  More is less in this case because too much sodium causes illness.  Limiting sodium consumption is easier said than done. Sodium occurs naturally in many foods—including foods we would not suspect, like milk.  So how do we limit without eliminating?

Mandatory bans, in this case, are neither desirable nor enforceable. Yet the evidence makes it clear that our sodium consumption should be reduced significantly. The National Academy of Science says so, the American Medical Association says so and so does the American Heart Association.  Even restaurant groups support a policy of voluntarily reducing salt levels in prepared food.

Yet, the salt industry’s trade association staunchly opposes even voluntary reductions, based on their interpretation of the evidence.  Thus, the Salt Institute –their non-profit trade association—opposes any public policy promoting moderation. But at the same time, the institute declares that it is “dedicated to advocating responsible uses of salt (NaCl), particularly to ensure winter roadway safety, quality water and healthy nutrition.”  Nowhere does the institute explain how “responsible use “ of salt is to be achieved if even voluntary measures are unacceptable.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has proposed that restaurants and processed food manufacturers voluntarily reduce sodium levels by 25% over the next 5 years. This is sound public policy because 77 % of the sodium in the typical American diet comes from processed foods and 6% from adding salt during cooking.The alternatives are mandating restrictions or the “do nothing” approach of the Salt Institute. I vote for Bloomberg.

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7 Responses to “Salt in Moderation”

  1. ddowell1 Says:

    I agree that getting restaurants and processed food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels is important in improving nutrition and public health and in reducing adverse health outcomes in the United States. Without reducing sodium levels in processed and restaurant food, it will continue to be almost impossible for individuals to follow a low-sodium diet even if they want to do so. However, I’m not sure how effective requests for voluntary reductions will be. In 2005, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene attempted to reduce restaurant use of artificial trans fats through education and a campaign for voluntary reductions. This did not decrease trans fat use in restaurants in New York City. However, after the New York City Board of Health required that trans fats be phased out, their use in New York City restaurants decreased from 50% to <2% (see Angell SY et. al. Cholesterol Control Beyond the Clinic: New York City’s Trans Fat Restriction at http://www.annals.org/content/151/2/129.full.pdf+html). It may be that New York City is trying a voluntary reduction in sodium before implementing a policy with more teeth, as was done for trans fats.

  2. sjohnston101 Says:

    This issue seems unfortunately to be a recurring theme in protecting the public from harmful processed foods and chemicals and other substances heavily endorsed by big-business. It seems that the public health machinery has to prove over decades the harmful effects before regulations with teeth can actually take effect, as was the case with tobacco and now food processing. The public often does not understand that the macaroni and cheese packet or the shrimp cocktail sauce is loaded with salt or that this salt can be unhealthful. I agree with your stand and I would vote for Bloomberg, too, if he were running for Mayor of Berkeley!

  3. brianwsimpson Says:

    The Salt Institute’s strategy of denying, diverting attention and delaying policy changes is reminiscent of Big Tobacco’s decades’ long battle to deny tha tobacco use can cause lung cancer. Mayor Bloomberg’s salt reduction initiative is a terrific start to preventing salt’s introduction into processed foods (where Americans get a majority of their salt intake)–a great example of population-level prevention. It also represents a good model for first offering the opportunity of voluntary collaboration by industry on an important public health problem. I would argue, however, that given the critical nature of reducing hypertension in the U.S. population, mandatory reduction through regulation would be necessary if industry does not meet salt reduction goals. This would be both enforceable, and in the interest of preserving the public’s health, desirable.

  4. sforte21 Says:

    I vote for Bloomberg as well.

    This reminds me of the proposals in many states to enact a soda tax. The thinking is if we can reduce soda consumptions, we may be able to reduce weight. However, this tax, not surprisingly, was opposed by the big soda manufactures. It almost seems that those with the money and lobbyists have the upper hand in forming public opinion. This is from the Washington Post “Politically, soda taxes have never taken off. A DC tax that would have funded more healthful school lunches was killed by the Council in May. Last week, New York legislators, who had pioneered the idea, caved in to the powerful beverage lobby. Yet, evidence continues to mount that taxing sugary beverages could help to stem or even reverse the American obesity epidemic.” http://voices.washingtonpost.com/all-we-can-eat/food-politics/usda-says-soda-tax-would-cut-o.html.

  5. klewis26 Says:

    I agree that salt moderation is gravely important. I’ve witnessed individuals and their offspring (small children) “shaking” salt on their food before even taste testing it. Most people eat certain foods because the food “tastes good” and dislike the food that is “good” for them. Usually, it isn’t until an individual or a close confidant of the individual obtains an illness (due to increased salt consumption) that leads them to make modifications to his/her diet. Also, the high intake of sodium has now been linked to adult diseases being observed in young children. I think that Mayor Bloomberg made a great decision for the state of New York. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat”.

  6. kdanfort Says:

    This is a very timely topic as the US is actually starting to fall behind other countries in terms of salt reduction efforts -most notably the UK Food Safety Administration just took up the topic and a number of Scandinavian countries have been addressing the issue for some time. Interestingly, what some of their experiences have shown is that if you reduce the amount of salt in foods gradually rather than abruptly, the majority of people don’t notice the taste difference. (In this vein the FSA, just released guidelines for bakers on how to bring down the salt content in their products incrementally. http://cabiblog.typepad.com/hand_picked/2010/07/cutting-the-salt.html) This could potentially be a downside to the mandatory regulation approach, as during the course of passing and enacting legislation it would likely be made more apparent to consumers that a change is occurring.

  7. NYC Makes Progress in Effort to Cut Salt | restaurant equipment repair NYC Says:

    […] https://sbfphc.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/salt-in-moderation/ […]

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