Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sodium Content of Cheerios Reduced in Very Low Key Way

Cheerios labeling 2011 - 190 mg of sodium

Cheerios, the breakfast cereal that is marketed more as a heart medicine ("Clinically PROVEN to Help Reduce Cholesterol!") than as a breakfast food, has been criticized in the past by your blogger and others for its surprisingly high sodium content.

For example, in 2007 ABC News reported  the comments of Dr. Randall Zusman, associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School,  on a bowl of "one popular cereal brand" that may pack more of a sodium punch than many consumers realize:
"One cup of Cheerios -- frequently advertised as heart healthy -- has 300 milligrams of salt," he explained. No one eats only one cup, so two to three cups each morning would be nearly 50 percent of your daily allotment. Yet, the FDA allows Cheerios to be advertised as a healthy alternative."
A 2007 blog post states that at that time Cheerios had a sodium content of 210 mg per serving.  The same number comes up in a 2009 blog post also.

There were low key hints of this coming.  In 2010, our fellow bloggers at Foodeducate quoted  Susan Crockett, Ph. D., General Mills vice president, Health and Nutrition as saying
“General Mills is committed to reducing sodium levels in a series of small steps across our portfolio. We believe making changes in a series of smaller steps is the right way to continue to deliver great taste while reducing sodium.”
Foodeducate added
The gradual effort will span the next 5 years and reduce the salt by 20% across product lines. Slashing a large amount at once may cause consumer backlash, so the baby step approach makes sense.
It’s no small challenge to remove sodium from processed food. besides the flavor loss, salt has additional roles – from preservative to binding agent to dough improver.
Unfortunately though, we are consuming twice the daily amount of salt we should be, and this leads to a host of health problems, most notably high blood pressure.
(Indeed, most bread recipes require salt as it plays a role in the rising process.  However, There are no salt/low salt bread recipes .  Donald Gazzaniga has written a whole cook book of low salt bread and cake recipes. At right is a sodium free bread sold by Vermont Bread Company on the East Coast - Whole Foods carries it.  Trader Joe's also sells sodium free bread in all the East Coast and West Coast stores I have visited. (Although Trader Joe's never advertises this, they have a broader selection of low salt foods than most mainstream supermarkets.) However, in most processed foods salt has no impact on the texture of the product.)

Cheerios labeling from website (October 2013)  - 160 mg
The Cheerios website, as of this writing in October 2013, shows the nutrition labeling shown at left for the product with 160 gm per serving.  The website also shows 12 different versions of Cheerios currently marketed in the US.  According to the website these range in sodium content from 135 mg to 180 mg per serving if you really need a "sodium hit" with your breakfast.  

The focus of this post is the traditional "yellow box" Cheerios that is the one marketed to adults and is the one with the repeated cardiac health claims that seem to test the FDA's tolerance for health claims in advertising. (Honey Nut Cheerios, 160  mg per serving according to the website, also is labeled "Can Help Lower Cholesterol", but Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, etc. do not appear to be marketed to adults with health claims.

Cheerios October 2013 - 140 mg
So imagine my surprise when I glanced during breakfast at a box of  "yellow box" Cheerios my spouse was eating recently.  The nutrition labeling is shown at left - 140 mg of sodium per serving!  This could be legally labeled "low sodium".  General Mills has successfully reduced the sodium from 210 mg to 140 mg per serving.  Several Google searches show no mention of this other than the vague 2010 statement from Dr. Crockett quoted above.  They also show no obvious complaints from Cheerios customers about the lower sodium level.  So maybe General Mills was successful with their "smaller step" approach to wean the public to a more reasonable sodium level.

As the food processing industry jumps with glee at introducing gluten-free food, even though the number of people medically needing a gluten-free diet is much lower than those needing a low sodium diet, they are ambivalent about meeting the need for low sodium foods.  Indeed, General Mills' covert marketing of the new lower sodium Cheerios - misleading information on the website and no "low sodium" designation in advertising or on the package - is a sign that the food industry views low sodium products as a secret to hide.  The  "low sodium" label at right has been used by Campbell's Soup in the past on soup products.  It implies that low sodium products should only be used for "sodium restricted diets" and that maybe are dangerous for others.

So congratulations to General Mills on their progress on Cheerios even though they are unwilling to admit it.  Maybe the same food technologists who helped you on this project can also work to come up with more low sodium/no sodium bread choices that can be mass marketed to Americans.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Major Food Processor Enters Low Salt Spice Market

A year ago, McCormick & Co., a major retail spice marketer and a member of the S&P 500 average, announced it was openly advertising a salt free spice line. Recently they have started advertising it more aggressively.

Mrs. Dash, an Alberto-Culver subsidiary, pioneered this concept in 1981 and has been the only national brand likely to be found in mainstream stores. Frankly, I find Mrs. Dash products rather bland and prefer salt free spice mixes from more obscure suppliers who can never be found in mainstream stores.

The new Perfect Pinch product line, has 18 flavors, 5 of which are salt free:
I have not tried them yet, but the $1 coupon in my Sunday paper this week is a big incentive.

The significance of this news is that a major food processor is embracing a no salt product. Compare this with Campbell's approach with their few low salt products: they label cans with a warning sign at left as if many Americans would suffer physical harm from eating low sodium products!

So kudos to McCormick for this bold move and let's hope that more competition for Mrs. Dash will make their products more responsive to consumer needs. Check if your nearby mainstream stores have these products and nag them a little if they don't. Also try buying them and repeating the purchase if you like the product - that sends a message.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hell Freezes Over! (NY Times and AZ Republic Agree on Salt Issue)

The February 14, 2010 Arizona Republic, the paper owned by Dan Quayle's family and one of the most right wing papers in the country had a front page article agreeing with the NY Times, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, on the need to reduce salt in diets.

We have had several posts quoting from the Times on New York City's recent salt campaign. So this new article shows that it is not a left wing conspiracy and has geographic support outside of NYC.

The article announces that the Republican state government is also taking action:
This week, the Arizona Department of Health Services is announcing an initiative to educate residents about how much sodium they are consuming and encourage them to eat less. The campaign ties in to a national movement being driven by New York City to encourage food manufacturers and restaurants to cut the sodium in their products by 25 percent over the next five years...The program is modeled after a similar effort in Britain, where daily sodium intake was reduced by about 9 percent from 2001 to 2008. Arizona has joined the initiative, pledging to support New York City's effort. Other participants include California, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Chicago and Seattle.
The article got a lot of comments on the Republic's web site. As one might imagine, some of these comments fervently express views colored by the writers' political bent. But health should not be a partisan divisive issue.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lose It! - iPhone/iPod Diet Program That Also Helps LS/LF Diets

"There's an App for That!"

The iPhone craze has created some interesting new technology. I was at a party recently and met a former work colleague who I hadn't seen in several years. She proudly pointed to her 6 month old daughter and later mentioned how she used an app on her iPhone to time and log labor contractions. Yes, there is an app for that also!

Lose It! is an app that works on both iPhones and the less expensive Apple iPod touch units. It is clearly intended for weight loss dieters since the first thing it asks you is your weight loss goal. It basically allows you to log your food consumption and then tracks the nutrients you have consumed. The screen shot at left shows how you enter food. While the database is limited, it is amazingly broad including fruits, vegetables, common home made dishes, prepared foods, and chain restaurant items. There is a way to add "recipes" for items that are not in the database and that you eat often. In addition to calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are tracked.

You can then also see your daily and weekly totals of nutrients.

The basic software is free! Of course you need an iPhone or iPod Touch but these have other uses and are cheaper than other diet tracking hardware which is less functional and usually less useful for the LS/LF dieter.

You can even download your data to you computer for analysis.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A New Low Salt Vendor Website

A few days after the last post urging readers to consider buying from low salt web sites, I noticed a new entrant in this field: Boulder CO's Low Salt Market. This location in the Southwest probably will result in low shipping costs to potential customers in the West over the other stores which are located in Minnesota, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Their website lists a variety of low salt products. All factory packaged products have full FDA nutrition information on the website. However, bulk products, specifically nuts and granola, have no nutrition information at all. Presumably they are low salt. But readers on LS/LF diets have to be aware that nuts are high in fat and must be consumed in moderation. Granolas are usually - but not always - high in fat and there is not indication whether any of the 8 types sold are low in fat.

So, we welcome Low Salt Market and hope that they improve their nutrition information on bulk products and pay more attention to those consumers who need LS/LF diets.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Specialty Products from Low Salt Vendors

From the very beginning of this website and blog I have given space to talking about the companies that specialize in selling low salt products.

Now ordering many products from distant suppliers is both inconvenient and expensive. Many LS/LF products are available in urban areas if you look around for them - why this is so difficult is puzzling.

But if you live in a more remote area your choices may be limited. Some products, like low sodium baking powder and baking soda may be hard to find even in urban area.

The above picture shows a product that was clearly commissioned by a specialty supplier, in this case Healthy Heart Market of Rogers, MN. LS/LF microwave popcorn may not be a diet necessity, but it could be very helpful to help you live a normal life with your family and work colleagues. (I happen to prefer hot air popped popcorn with a spray of butter-like flavor such as I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray)

Nutritional Information:
Serving size: 1/2 bag
Calories: 110
Total fat: 1.5 g
Cholesterol: 0
Sodium: 0mg
Total carbohydrate: 23g
Sugars 0g
Protein 4g

Buying from these specialty suppliers will keep them in business and encourage them to develop products like this that normal retailers aren't interested in.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Serving Size Snafu

The NY Times today had a good article and a video explaining the bizarre nature of FDA mandated portion sizes. Since nutrition labels are tied to portion sizes, naive portion sizes result in incorrect understandings of salt and fat content of foods.

The good news is that FDA is finally trying to resolve this mess.

Related article