Food Engineering

Editor's Note: Will America just say no to sodium?

March 28, 2003
According to the APHA, America is hooked on snacks and foods high in sodium.



As we went to press with this issue, the American Public Health Association (APHA) was making headlines with a new policy calling for a fundamental shift in the restaurant and food processing industries and in consumer behavior to dramatically lower the amount of sodium consumed by Americans.

According to the association, America is hooked on snacks and foods high in sodium. APHA has been around for over 100 years. But to be quite honest, I had never heard of them. And to be even more honest, I didn’t need them to tell me about the American addiction with junk food. We all know about it, we just can’t seem to agree on what to do about it.

APHA says that cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 40 percent of all deaths in the United States and cost the nation more than $300 billion annually. Each year, 710,000 Americans die of heart disease and more than 166,000 die of stroke, the group says.

For years we have been reminded by our physicians that sodium is directly associated with elevated blood pressure levels. According to Claude Lenfant, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there is strong scientific evidence that reducing sodium intake can have a substantial effect on lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension and in those without it.

The average American adult ingests nearly 4,000 mg of sodium daily, says APHA, far exceeding the current recommendation to consume no more than 2,400 mg per day. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the daily sodium intake of the U.S. population comes from salt in processed foods, the association says, with the remainder coming from salt added while cooking or sprinkled on at the table.

Specifically, the new APHA policy calls for reducing the sodium content of processed foods by 50 percent over the next 10 years; educating consumers to choose lower sodium foods; and making hypertension prevention and control a higher priority.

Of course, the Salt Institute has a much different outlook. They claim that since 1995, there have been ten reported studies on the question of whether lower sodium diets produce health benefits. All ten studies agree on one thing, the Institute says. In the general population, those on lower sodium diets have no reduced incidence of heart attacks or stokes. All ten agree that morbidity and mortality is not improved by low-sodium diets.

The salt people are concerned that APHA policy may trigger unhealthy consequences related to possible risks of low-sodium diets. The Salt Institute suggests that the problem is “salt sensitivity” not “salt intake” and the solution is not less salt, but more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. In short, it is the poor quality of the American diet that needs fixing, they say. According to the Salt Institute, Americans under-consume recommended amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. These deficiencies create “salt sensitivity,” the group says, and a diet enriched with fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products protects against “salt sensitivity.”

Should Americans eat a diet enriched with fruits and vegetables? No doubt about it. But it really all boils down to another question. Will America just say no to sodium? I doubt it.

Letter to the editor

Being in the food industry for over 20 years, I enjoyed reading your “Editor’s Note” in the November issue of Food Engineering. How true, how true. The USDA must realize that they work for the people and not the lobbyists in Washington, DC.

Manufacturing plants do a voluntary recall only to find out that the strain of Listeria found in the field is non-existent in the plant in question. Also, did you know that raw meat from a supplier that has Listeria is not considered adulterated until it is processed by a processing plant? Doesn’t make any sense, does it? But go ask Con Agra.

Just wanted to share my thoughts.

Mike Kelly

Plant Manager
Home Run Inn