Monday, October 10, 2005


There’s bad news and good news about salt in processed foods.

The bad news is that the Food and Drug Administration has backed down on the maximum sodium levels permitted for foods that bear the implied nutrient content claim “healthy”.

The decision has been welcomed by food processors who maintain that the technological barriers to reducing sodium in processed foods and poor sales of products has inhibited the development of other new “healthy” products.

What has caused the American taste for high salt products? Is it because it covers up the flavors removed during processing? Is it because the fast foods offered to children have made them salt-addicts when they grow up?

Health officials in the United States have urged the reduction of sodium in the diet since the substance has been identified as a major culprit in the development of high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease.

Some seventy sodium compounds are used in food. The National Academy of Sciences, whose experts establish dietary guidelines, recommends that we ingest no more than 2400 milligrams of sodium per day. The average American ingests 3500 to 7000 milligrams. (A teaspoon of salt has about 2000 milligrams of salt). If the number for sodium looks very low on a label, look again. Some companies make you think there is less by saying 2 grams of sodium, for example, which is really 2000 milligrams.

As of now, when a label reads “low sodium” it is supposed to contain 140 mg or fewer per serving. “Very low sodium” is fewer than 35 mg per serving and sodium free is less than 5 mg per serving. Watch the size of a serving, however. It may be a teaspoonful when you are likely to pour a ¼ of a cup of a dressing on your salad.

The good news is that manufacturers want to be ready for the salt reduction pressures by health officials and eventually the health aware consumers. Wild Flavors has developed a new salt replacer that it claims blocks the bitter taste of potassium chloride while keeping the taste and mouthfeel of table salt. Prime Favorites, another company, claims it has an additive, NeutraFres, which also has a hard-to-distinguish substitute for sodium. Then, of course, there are more and more spice mixtures on the market that pep up food without salt.

Can you shake the salt habit?

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