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Good luck to New York in its assault on salt

Submitted by on Monday, 11 January 2010 No Comment

From the state that led the battle against transfat comes the latest assault on manufacturer-induced nutrition nightmares: New York City wants companies to cut down on the amount of sodium in food.

Good luck on that one. It will be a much harder battle than whacking restaurants around over transfats. For one, there are a number of acceptable substitutes for transfats. For another, when you’re fighting only restaurants, getting compliance is pretty easy. Simply say “do it, or we’ll shut you down.”

This time, though, the Big Apple is taking on big food manufacturers. The companies say all the right things about cutting sodium, but with the caveat of “as long as consumers continue to accept it.”

Translation: You can’t make us, so we’re not going to do it.

As unbelievable as it might seem, there’s even a doctor who’s willing to caution against the plan.

Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said New York’s initiative would amount to an uncontrolled experiment with the public’s health.

“I’m always worried about unintended consequences,” he told The New York Times.

Funny, but several governments already are concerned about the obvious consequences of an inability to pass on passing the salt. In Canada, where the government recommends considerably less sodium a day than U.S. officials suggest, the medical association calls reducing sodium a major health priority.

Experts blame the problem on manufactured food that’s the source of 80 percent of the sodium developed countries consume.

Corn, for example, has little natural sodium – only 13 milligrams or so. Despite what manufacturers say, there’s no reason to add it. It’s not needed as a preservative. Yet, a third of a cup of Green Giant’s canned sweet niblets has the sodium load equal to an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. That’s 200 mg – more than a serving of Pringle’s, which has only 180.

The U.S. government recommends no more than 2,400 mg a day, so if you eat the Green Giant corn you’ve accounted for a chunk of that amount in a single side dish. And that’s if  you stop at a third of a cup.

While an eighth of a teaspoon might not sound like much, try shaking that much salt into a spoon and see how long it takes. You’d get a repetitive stress injury trying to do it with every dish at every meal. It’s far more than you’d use on fresh food.

So if it’s not needed, then why is it there? Because salt covers up for the lack of quality ingredients and perks up lesser-grade produce. And because our manufactured-trained tongues crave it.

Even as  sanctimonious as I am, my Campbells-fed taste buds have trouble tolerating homemade chicken noodle soup without adding far more salt than I do to anything else I eat.

Ay, but Campbell’s tells the Times that it’s already made significant progress in cutting the sodium. While that’s true, the company spokeswoman neglected to mention that it’s significant progress has resulted in a product that still  has 140 mg per serving in a line marketed to people on sodium-restricted diets. Its “25 percent less” label still has a whopping 660 mg.

That’s “significant progress” is you’re grading on the curve of sodium levels that already were through the roof. Is is “significant progress” toward where we should be?

No. Good luck, New York, on getting us there.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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