Hold the Salt

By Ivana Susic

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily sodium intake is less than 2,400 mg. On average, Americans consume 4,000 mg of sodium daily, with 75 percent of that intake coming from the processed foods consumed on a regular basis.

In an effort to lower sodium intake, the American Heart Association is collaborating with New York City to create a nationwide campaign, the National Salt Reduction Initiative. The goal is part of a plan that aims to improve cardiovascular health and help people reduce the sodium they eat to fewer than 1,500 mg per day by the year 2020.

This amount is currently how much is recommended as the daily intake for people sensitive to sodium. There is also a call for the Food and Drug Administration to federally mandate food companies set a limit for salt added to processed foods.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said more than 100,000 deaths each year can be attributed to health problems that arise from high salt consumption.

He called it “vitally important” for the FDA to regulate the addition of salt in processed foods, citing the Institute of Medicine calling the voluntary approach for companies reducing sodium as an “abysmal failure.”

According to Jacobson, the sodium in processed foods could be reduced by 25 percent before consumers would begin to notice a difference in taste.

The FDA needs to set limits,” Jacobson said. “It’s not the consumer using the salt shaker.”

Ruth Frechman, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, said she thinks it’s a good idea for government agencies to step in because the level of salt consumption is “detrimental” to physical health.

“[However], it doesn’t really matter who gets it done as long as it gets done,” she said.

An excess of sodium intake is linked to developing high blood pressure, a problem that afflicts one in three Americans and that will be a problem for 99 percent of Americans by middle-age, according to the American Heart Association.

“It reminds me of when people avoided restaurants when smoking was allowed indoors,” Frechman said.

She said people used to avoid eating at restaurants because of the smoke, but now often avoid it because of the unhealthy menu options.

Frechman added she is sure people would appreciate less salt in their food, and the only reason they don’t notice the amount they consume is because it can be found in everything.

“The taste of salt is a habit,” she said.

The majority of people have become used to the excess. People can also adjust to lower sodium, she said, because much of the salt in processed foods is not needed for flavor.

Jason Williquette, a florist at Bunches A Flower Shop in Lakeview, said while he does most of his cooking at home, he does not think salt content needs to be federally regulated.

He recently discovered he has a wheat allergy, which has made him more cautious about what food he purchases or what he eats at restaurants, but rarely considers the amount of sodium in the food he consumes.

“Sodium seems harmless enough,” Williquette said.

He said people can regulate their intake if they feel they consume too much.

“There are companies that sell food with less or no sodium,” Williquette said. “That’s always an option.”

The best way to avoid excessive sodium intake is to read food labels, Frechman said, calling it the most important thing for people to do. Educating people on the dangers of too much salt is also key to preventing the associated health risks, such as hypertension.

As an alternative to using salt to flavor a dish, Frechman said there are plenty of other choices, such as herbs, spices, lemons and garlic.

“There’s a variety of things to season with,” she said.

Jacobson said that until now, companies have not had much incentive to change the sodium content in food, but there is no better time for the government to step in, with the push for healthier foods becoming public.

He said the Obama administration has been very aware of the need for preventing illnesses before they arise.

“Still, this is something they should have done 30 years ago,” Jacobson said.

“The FDA needs to set limits,”