Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Sodium Crisis: A Major Health Concern

A few years ago, there was a huge effort to enlighten the public on the health effects of trans fats.

The result: Mandatory labeling, the removal of trans fats from many products, and entire cities banning trans fats from restaurants.

Looks like sodium's next!

The CSPI has called sodium the “deadliest ingredient in the food supply” and the “forgotten killer”.

Why is Salt Bad?

High sodium intake has been linked with high blood pressure- 1 in 6 people worldwide have high blood pressure, as do 65 million Americans. 45 million more are considered “pre-hypertensive” (between normal and high blood pressure).

Don’t have high blood pressure? Chances are you will. 90% of Americans will. And, even if you don’t have high blood pressure, cutting back on sodium can reduce your chances of getting cardiovascular diseases by 25% and your risk of dying from it by 20%. Same goes for kids!

Eating less salt is also one of the most important ways in preventing heart disease. High sodium intake has also been linked to obesity, stomach cancer, kidney stones, kidney disease, osteoporosis and an increase in asthma symptom severity.

How Much is Too Much?

The WHO recommends we eat less than 2000mg sodium/day whereas US and Canadian guidelines, based on Institute of Medicine recommendations, recommend less than 2300 mg/day, less than 1500mg/day if you have high blood pressure.

In fact, we only need about 1200-1500mg/d. As a reference, 2.5 little pickles contain 1550 mg/day.

We’re eating about double the limit, 3500-4000mg sodium/day... and that’s too much!

Where’s All This Salt?

Believe it or not, the majority of salt isn’t coming from the salt shaker. About 80% of our sodium is coming from processed foods!

Between 1994-2004, sodium in food has increased by 6%.

Packaged foods and restaurant meals are huge sources of salt in the diet. For example, a slice of pizza has about 1770mg sodium. A Denny’s Meat Lover’s breakfast (2 eggs, bacon, 2 sausages, toast and hash browns) has 3460mg sodium!

Hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and subs are the main source of sodium in the Canadian diet.

Click here to find out what the saltiest restaurant meals in America are!

What’s Happening?

Although the food industry is slowly starting to develop lower sodium in some products- watch the commercial below for Knorr Sidekicks that have reduced sodium by 25% in 22 of their products- it’s not enough.

It’s estimated that 8.5 million worldwide deaths could be avoided over 10 years by adopting public strategies to reduce sodium intake.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is asking for sodium to be recognized as a food additive rather than GRAS (Genereally Recognized As Safe) in the States, so it could be regulated. They’re also suing the restaurant chain Denny’s for not disclosing the large amount of salt in their food which, according to them, is putting unknowing consumers at a huge health risk. They also want the restaurant chain to post warnings on their menus about the high sodium levels.

Canada’s Sodium Working Group was started in 2007 and is made up science/health professionals (including 2 dietitians!), food industry and NGO representatives as well as government officials. The group plans to come up with a plan to reduce Canadian’s sodium intake in 4 years, a bit too slow for some.

New York City, always a leader in health initiatives (first to ban trans fats in restaurants and implement mandatory menu calorie labelling) has started its own initiative and plan to cut sodium in restaurant foods by 25% in the next 5 years.

Strategies That Work!

Finland, and more recently the UK, should serve as models for Canadians and Americans. Both countries have partnered with the food industry to reduce sodium in products and educate the public through mass media campaigns.

Click here for another great British ad:

Finland started this in the 70s and they’ve seen a drop in sodium intake from 5600mg/d to 3200mg/d! They’ve also seen a huge 70% reduction in stroke and heart attack deaths!

Both countries have also adopted an easy labeling system: green label for low salt, amber for medium salt and red for high salt. The result in the UK: a reduction of 400mg sodium in just 4 years!

More to come on this topic for sure!


Jme said...

Geeze Louise! scary stuff. one more thing to think about though!

Melissa said...

I find that when I eat something processed, the next day my joints feel all puffy from the water retention. It's always a good tactile reminder to watch the salt.

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Ya, some people are definitely more sensitive to salt and that would help regulate intake...
I don't feel bloated after eating salt but I can taste it really easily. People that need salt to enjoy foods need only wait 6 weeks on a lower salt diet- after that time, their taste buds will adapt and they won't need as much salt as 6 weeks before!