I should start by saying that I am not obsessed with blood pressure. My plan was to post 7 Reasons you should monitor your blood pressure and move on.
But the very next day, when I sat down to eat my low-salt breakfast, a headline in the Washington Post caught my eye. It discussed a report, commissioned by the U.S. Congress and prepared by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine.
Why too much salt is bad
Consumption of high levels of salt—the primary source of sodium in the diet—increases the risk of high blood pressure which itself increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease. Estimates are that reducing the consumption of sodium could save more than 100,000 lives annually in the U.S.
Setting sodium standards
The Institute of Medicine report recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set maximum allowable levels for sodium in foods, slowly reducing the levels over time “in a way that goes unnoticed by most consumers as individuals’ taste sensors adjust to the lower levels of sodium.”
Currently, there are no standards, but the recommended maximum daily intake of sodium is 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day for those in the general population (and less for those at risk for high blood pressure). On average, though, Americans consume more than 3,400 mg per day.
Where the salt comes from
About 10-12% of sodium in the diet occurs naturally in food. Another 10-12% is added in cooking at home or at the table. The rest—a whooping 77% or so of sodium in the diet comes from that added to processed food or to food served in restaurants.
So, it probably seemed like a good strategy to reduce the amount of sodium in the diet by setting standards for the amount which may be added to “processed and restaurant food.” However, I don’t think that it is.
Why setting sodium standards is not a good idea
*** It assumes that salt in the diet is the main cause of high blood pressure and doesn’t address other risk factors, such as age? Is high blood pressure actually an inevitable result of aging, independent of diet? Or is it assumed to be inevitable because it’s so common in the U.S. (although not in some “under-developed” countries)?
*** It doesn’t consider other approaches. What about medication to reduce blood pressure. What about a combination of diet, exercise, and medication? What are the recommended numbers for some one (like me) whose high blood pressure is well controlled by such a combination?
*** Processed foods and restaurant foods are two completely different categories, and it doesn’t make sense to lump them together.
*** It’s too broad. Why try to reduce the amount of salt in everything? Instead of worrying about thousands of food products with a bit too much salt, how about concentrating on fewer products with sky-high amounts of salt? Think potato chips, French-fried potatoes, salted nuts, hot dogs, beef jerky, and that abomination in a bag—pork rinds—to pick just a few.
*** It’s based upon the unit of the “serving” which—while generally obvious when eating in a restaurant—is nearly useless when eating food cooked at home.
An example: last night I cooked Spanish Rice with Chicken. The processed foods containing sodium were canned tomatoes, chicken broth, and left-overs from a chicken roasted at home a few days before.
I measured the amount of chicken broth initially, but later the dish was getting a little dry, so I poured in some more without measuring. It was a recipe meant to serve 4 to 6. Since there were just two of us, I cut it in half, sort of. But my BF and I didn’t eat the same amount, and we didn’t eat it all. There were left-overs.
So my questions are:
*** How much sodium was in the pre-roasted chicken?
*** Was it “plumped up” with saline water during production?
*** If so, did the roasting get rid of it?
*** Did it get rid of the water but leave the salt?
*** How much sodium did I consume?
*** How about my BF?
*** And, finally, does anyone seriously think that a person just trying to get a good meal on the table will even try to sort all this out?
What do you think? Is there a better way to attack the problem of dangerous levels of sodium in food? Should the government do something? Should it focus on restaurant food and forget about processed foods? Should it do nothing? I look forward to getting your comments, questions, and suggestions.