Thursday, January 29, 2009

Salt Licked and School Lunch

If you already read yesterday's NY Times Dining section, you likely expected me to post this blog. Such a given, how could I not? The feature article of the section, "Throwing the Book at Salt," sheds light on the newest food-health campaign to hit the American public. Welcome to the war on salt and high-sodium diets waged by NYC's Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden. We've banned trans-fats from NYC menus, thank goodness, and we're onto something new. Hidden sodium in packaged, mass-produced food items is the culprit and has been on the chopping block with health professionals and nutritionists (myself included) for years. Similar to hidden sugar, sodium can be found lurking in any number of unsuspecting foods that you eat every day. The issue isn't likely the salt (hopefully a moderate amount) you're using to cook with or the dash of salt you're sprinkling over a meal, it's all the things we eat without realizing what exactly is in them. It's these items that contribute over 80% of our sodium intake. Here are a few crazy stats to consider: recent research found that by 2000, men were consuming 48% more sodium than they were in the 1970s and women, 69% more. Currently, the daily rec for sodium is 2,300 mg -- about 1 teaspoon of salt. Most Americans are consuming double that. Feel constantly bloated and parched...well, now you know why in part!
Where can you find excess salt? Anywhere and everywhere - even in healthful products like Kashi's Heart to Heart Honey Oat waffles (2 waffles contain 15% of your daily sodium rec). Your big red flags are going to be canned soups, many of which contain 1000mg or more of sodium per serving, frozen dinners, packaged snacks, canned tomato sauces, cold cuts and bottled dressings to name a few. Here's a few other shockers...
1 cup of Kellogg's Raisin Bran contains 17% of your daily rec and 1 Thomas's plain bagel has 20%. My favorite, 1 measley packet of fast food ketchup contains 5%. Ok, so it's only 5%, but who seriously uses only 1 packet!? Let's try 4-5 for most of us.
So Dr. Frieden is wanting food manufacturers to curb the amount of salt they add to food in hopes of lowering our overall consumption of sodium. Definitely an uphill battle, but something that definitely requires attention -- a diet high in sodium impacts high blood pressure and heart disease among other health issues.
What actually struck me most in the entire piece, was the last line: "Diet is an incredibly complicated business". An incredible statement, because it is indeed, but it really shouldn't be. What we eat, what comprises our "diet", was never intended to become all tangled up with business, mass food production, food lobbying and farm subsidies. Of course that's the natural outgrowth of capitalism and a growing population. When we eat real, basic, fresh food, whole ingredients...surprise, surprise, we're healthier and hopefully happier than ever. Just thought I'd throw in my two shakes of salt. What do you think?

photo credit: Tony Cenicola, The New York Times

Finally...a quick note on another NY Times report, actually a blog post, yesterday -- on how one of Obama's White House chefs, Sam Kass, is seeking to overhaul the School Lunch Program. Finally! Here's a quick excerpt from Tara Parker Pope's WELL blog post:

"In May, over a meal of locally-produced beef and barley soup, Mr. Kass lamented the sorry state of the National School Lunch Program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to schoolchildren. He noted that what gets served up to kids is influenced by government agricultural subsidies. As a result, he says, meals served to students are low in vegetables and disproportionately high in fat, additives, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. (He also links the high consumption of sugary foods and food additives to learning difficulties and attention deficit disorder, although the medical community remains divided on that issue.)"

Fingers and forks crossed people...

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