Sodium Intake for a Healthy Life
Excess sodium intake causes stiff arteries, leading to hypertension and a host of other medical issues. With this being common knowledge the world over, we might think that public health professionals warn the public about the dangers of the little crystal granules. We might further imagine chefs and food scientists are actively trying to figure out healthy alternatives, but this is often not the case.
The Salt Barons
I once hired a chef who’d worked for one of DC’s most famous restaurant groups. During his first week on the job, he commented with surprise on how little salt our menu required.
Then he confessed, “Salt was our secret ingredient at my last restaurant. We used way too much, but the customers loved the food and kept coming back for more.”
I doubt the specific restaurant group he worked for would appreciate their former chef’s revealing their salty little secret. Excessive use, however, is well known in the restaurant industry.
I compare its use to the 1980s when most restaurants were perfectly fine with customers lighting up to enjoy a cigarette with their meals. When I was a young boy, it wasn’t uncommon for me to walk in for dinner and walk out 30 minutes later, smelling like I had personally smoked a pack of cigarettes.
That’s how thick the second-hand smoke in the air could get!
Back then, allowing smoking indoors was considered a right of smokers and business owners. Even though mountains of evidence linked cigarettes with lung cancer, the tobacco industry kept fighting to protect the universal right to indoor smoking.
Only many years of public service announcements (PSA) against smoking and the dangers of second-hand finally turned public sentiment against tobacco interests. In a rare win, public health triumphed over big business.
Lighting up in restaurants was finally prohibited in the late ’90s and early 2000s. And today, it’s Big food’s unchallenged use of unlimited salt that’s wreaking havoc on our arteries.
Excess sodium intake: PSAs
Hypertension has replaced smoking as our greatest health threat. High blood pressure directly linked to sodium consumption is the number one global risk factor for death and disease!
Only those with a financial interest at stake are debating this fact: The multi-trillion-dollar processed food, meat, cheese, and restaurant industries. As a restaurant owner, I have first-hand knowledge of how they throw their money around, using their influence to dampen the debate on public-health measures.
Thanks to their stonewalling, calls for reducing the sodium in our food are met with indifference. It is the same financially driven apathy that met calls for limiting smoking in the 1980s.
You’d think there’d be a public-health campaign warning about the dangers of high salt intake. And in fact, there is! The top search result for “public service announcement excess salt intake” linked me to the “Reduce Salt by Half” campaign.
Which US state was bold enough to launch this program? Well, none. The article’s lead gives this warning:
More than 1 in 4 deaths in Viet Nam are linked to consuming too much salt.
A similar search found that in 2012, Massachusetts’ Department of Health did launch an anti-salt campaign. Judging from this 18-second video clip, however, they must have had a bare-bones advertising budget. The clip generated only 700 views, with one thumb-up and one thumb-down review.
It deserved a much wider audience because the content is spot-on:
“Many foods contain a lot more salt than you think.
Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Compare labels, choose less sodium.”
I’m guessing the processed-food industry wasn’t particularly happy about this message reaching the public.
But should public health messaging be impacted by their influence? It’s time we start holding restaurants and processed-food companies accountable for their excessive salt use’s impact on our health.
And we can do it without waiting for a change in public policy! Every one of us can start today with a dietary change.
Excess sodium intake VS. a Healthy Life
Sodium intake should be under 1,500 mg a day or 2/3 teaspoon, according to the AHA. Some might consider this a low-salt diet, but before the age of processed foods and fast-food restaurants, this amount would have been entirely normal. It can be normal again if we choose to eat whole-food, plant-based foods.
Making the switch is not as hard as it may seem. Human taste buds are amazingly adaptable – and according to Dr. Greger, they’ll adapt to low- or no-salt eating in just a few weeks:
“Put people on a low-salt diet, and over the weeks, they like the taste of salt-free soup more and more, and the taste of salty soup less and less. Your tastes physically change… A control group liked lots of salt in their soup, but for those who’d been on salt-restricted diets, regularly salted foods taste way too salty, and they actually preferred soup with less.”
Looking for an excellent New Year’s Resolution? Cutting back on the salt will make anyone’s diet healthier – and the longer we eat more nutritious foods, the better they taste!