Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Salt: The Empire Strikes Back
These are dark times in a galaxy of a food consumers worried about health. Last month, TSD reported that sodium recommendations were changing due to an outcry from the public. It was a new hope; government being spurred on by a public concern for personal safety. But empires aren’t afraid of little populist regimes and it appears Salt Vader has enlisted the dark side of the Force to change their minds.
“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”
The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”
Unfortunately, there’s more than taste at stake when we analyze proper nutrition. There is no question that high salt consumption is leading to thousands of deaths (health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year in the US alone) and millions of people becoming ill. The issue is that a huge industry is dependant upon us consuming salt--a lot of salt. And these people make a lot of money and, hence, wield a lot of power and will do their darndest to keep it that way.
The article, The Hard Sell On Salt, from the NY Times, is long and goes into a lot of depth. I suggest you read it. For those who won’t here’s the Cliff Notes version:
Most processed foods aren’t really food. They’re just amalgamations of chemicals that bind together that are flavored in a way that some scientists have figured out will cause you to crave them. For example:
As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.
“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.
They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.
The main addictive qualities of these foods come from salt, sugar, and fat; incidentally (or not) the three culprits of the obesity epidemic. There’s not much nutrition in these foods, which are fortified with a few “essential vitamins.” This may sound great on TV to kids but is done, essentially, to keep you from dying quickly. Real food has all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients you need to be healthy and doesn’t need to be fortified with anything.
The bulk of processed food is generally corn but can be the by product of pretty much anything because it’s been processed so thoroughly it’s simply a binder that is now devoid of any nutritional use it once had. So when you eat processed foods you eat some sort of unnatural balance of salt, sugar, and fat that enhances some empty calories that are fortified with some random vitamins. Based on this so-called logic the processed food industry is arguing that forcing a reduction in salt would just lead to an increase in sugar or fat. Health should not come into play because it’s not what consumers care about.
“We were trying to balance the public health need with what we understood to be the public acceptability,” said William K. Hubbard, a top agency official at the time who now advises an industry-supported advocacy group. “Common sense tells you if you take it down too low (salt) and people don’t buy, you have not done something good.”
So the industry argument is that people want to eat junk that will kill them so we’re beholden to supply them with junk and it’s unfair to ask them to change for the good of society. That’s like not feeding your child vegetables because they’d rather eat candy and then saying it was okay that they died of diabetes because it’s what they wanted. Except it’s not like that; it’s like doing that and then demanding the other parents follow suit because candy is what their kids really want to eat.
In closing, one corporate spokesman who did not give a name but was dressed in some type of black cloaked Halloween costume stated in a deep, breathy voice:
We do not yet realize salt’s importance. We have only begun to discover its power. Join me, and I will complete your salt training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.