Friday, January 15, 2010

The Great NYC Salt Debate

Earlier this month, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced "a broad new health initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products." The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership of cities, states and national health organizations lead by New York City, wants to see a 25 percent reduction of sodium content in packaged and restaurant foods compared to current levels.

The City pointed out facts that hopefully readers of this blog already knew:
Americans consume roughly twice the recommended limit of salt each day – causing widespread high blood pressure and placing millions at risk of heart attack and stroke – in ways that they cannot control on their own. Only 11% of the sodium in Americans’ diets comes from their own saltshakers; nearly 80% is added to foods before they are sold. Through a year of technical consultation with food industry leaders, the National Salt Reduction Initiative has developed specific targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food. Some popular products already meet these targets – a clear indication that food companies can substantially lower sodium levels while still offering foods that consumers enjoy.

“Consumers can always add salt to food, but they can’t take it out,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “At current levels, the salt in our diets poses health risks for people with normal blood pressure, and it’s even riskier for the 1.5 million New Yorkers with high blood pressure. If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat, and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process.”
There is some controversy in this area. Today's New York Times has a discussion among 7 people on this topic. Some views:

Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Control of sodium in foods is more complicated because some is essential, but the average American now eats amounts that are many times more than is needed. The New York initiative calls for a very modest reduction, and further decreases will be needed for most people to achieve optimal salt intake levels.

The Salt Institute has argued that reducing sodium intake will cause people to eat more calories. This claim is not supported by any evidence and is clearly bogus; the reason the food industry has ratcheted up the sodium content of food is to increase consumption of their products, not reduce it.

An effective reduction in sodium is difficult to achieve by consumers on their own because about 75 percent of sodium intake consumed by Americans is added in the processing of food or in restaurants, and thus much of the time even the most health conscious consumer does not have information about the sodium content of their diet. In addition, children cannot be expected to make informed choices even if the information were available.

Mark Kurlansky, author of “Salt: A World History” and writes frequently about food history.

Most of us eat more salt than we need. Excessive amounts of salt lead to high blood pressure and other dangers, we are told. That is not necessarily true. It depends on the individual. Our kidneys are designed to handle excesses. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t for reasons that are not completely clear. High salt intake does not always cause high blood pressure, and reducing salt in the diet does not necessarily lower it.

Your blogger does not necessarily agree with any of these views, but thought the article would be of interest to readers.

At least you can now see the arguments that are floating around. Remember, the Tobacco Institute defended tobacco for years also.

1 comment:

  1. Bloomberg needs to pay more attention to hygiene. Workers step on and handle food surfaces whil supposedly protecting us by cleaning. Kids spread filth by clothes swabbing floors. Pigeons fly around delis crapping. One guy threw away food when the container fell to the floor then put the empty container in the pantry without cleaning it. Today's workers thingk hygiene is silly. They used to teach you about these things in grammar school but today it seems patronizing.