Are We Eating Too Much Salt?

A roundup of the latest articles about sodium in foods and health from FoodNavigator-USA, including reactions from bakers, researchers, law professors, academics, and government.

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Dietary sodium continues to generate much talk but little action.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recent Vital Signs report on dietary sodium with the graphic displayed at right.

In translation from the data tables:

  • 90 percent of Americans consume too much salt.
  • 44 percent of salt comes from 10 foods: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snacks.
  • 65 percent of salt comes from retail processed foods.
  • 25 percent comes from food served at restaurants.
  • 10 percent comes from salt added at the table.
  • 10 percent occurs naturally in foods.
  • $20 billion a year is the cost of salt-related chronic disease.

The bottom line? Americans would be better off eating less salt.

But from the standpoint of the food industry, reducing dietary sodium is a big problem. See, for example, FoodNavigator-USA.com's recent articles about sodium in foods and health:

Sodium reduction: The science, the technology ... and the business case: It's expensive, risky, and difficult, but manufacturers have made huge progress on sodium reduction in recent years. But how much further can they go, and where is the ROI if consumers are at best indifferent to their efforts, or at worst downright suspicious?

Bakers on sodium reduction: We can't afford to make products consumers won't buy: Reducing sodium is expensive and difficult, and many bakers are beginning to wonder whether it is worth investing millions into reformulating products that consumers do not want to buy, according to the Association of Bakers (ABA).

Risks of slashing sodium levels in cheese could outweigh benefits, U.S. researcher: A prominent U.S. researcher says that government pressure to cut sodium in cheese could have serious food safety, taste, and labeling consequences, and questions the necessity of such a move given minimal evidence of positive health effects and muted consumer demand.

Sodium reduction: To boldly go ... lower and lower: Food manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reduce sodium, but surveys suggest many shoppers are, well, not that bothered. So where does this leave firms plugging sodium reduction solutions? Elaine Watson asks Mariano Gascon, R&D chief at seasonings, flavors and spice specialist Wixon for his take on it.

Law professor: Sodium reduction only works if there is a level playing field: If consumers are not demanding lower-sodium products, and the government does not mandate reductions, the food industry has "no incentive to be at the forefront of change," according to one legal expert.

National Dairy Council: Low sodium cheese is not taking the market by storm: While cheese makers remain committed to salt reduction, demand for low-sodium cheese remains pretty lackluster, according to the National Dairy Council (NDC).

Academic: Government sodium targets are incompatible with rest of dietary guidelines: Further evidence that government healthy eating guidelines are more 'aspirational' than achievable has been uncovered by researchers testing how easy it is to meet low sodium targets and get the rest of the nutrients we need.

IFT urges government to take a cautious approach to sodium reduction: The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has submitted comments to government agencies suggesting that actions to reduce sodium should not go "too far, too fast," and has raised concerns about consumer acceptance and the safety of reduced sodium foods.

American Heart Association blasts industry sodium reduction skeptics: Suggestions by the Salt Association and other industry associations that sodium reductions could hurt rather than improve health are "not supported by science," the American Heart Association (AHA) has insisted.

'Processed' foods are often high in sodium -- but what's a processed food? About 75 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods. It's a regularly cited figure -- but what exactly is a 'processed' food? Consumers might be surprised.

But this one just in:

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This post originally appeared on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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