Too much salt is bad for our health, but fast food and processed meals are loaded with it. Turns out North Americans are getting more than their share. A study published in the April 16th issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows sodium levels and portion sizes vary among companies and countries.
Correcting for portion size variations among companies and countries, the results show that fries sold in Canada have twice as much salt as those in New Zealand and nearly three times as much as the ones in France.
Here are more of their findings:
- Chicken products in the U.K. contain 1.1 grams of salt per 100 grams, while those in the U.S. contain 1.8 grams.
- Savory breakfast items include 1.1 grams of sodium in New Zealand, 1.8 in the U.S.
- Salads have the lowest sodium levels, but they ranged from 0.3 grams per 100 grams in Subway to 1.1 in Pizza Hut.
The researchers point out that companies are constantly reformulating their products so reducing sodium presents no major challenges. Because of companies’ concerns that competitors could gain a competitive edge, they recommend a standardized regulatory approach:
Governments setting and enforcing salt targets for industry would provide a level playing field, and no company could gain a commercial advantage by using high levels of salt.
Voluntary Efforts Not Enough
The spread of diet-related diseases is swamping health systems around the globe. Excessive levels of sodium contribute to the problem, and food companies are not reducing their salt use quickly enough. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine called on the FDA to set salt standards for processed foods and prepared meals because:
[F]our decades of public education campaigns about the dangers of excess salt and voluntary sodium cutting efforts by the food industry have generally failed to make a dent in Americans’ intakes….The industry’s voluntary efforts have fallen short because of lack of a level playing field for all products. Companies have feared losing customers who could switch to competing products or brands with higher salt content. Also, salt is so widespread and present in such large amounts in grocery store and menu items — including many foods and drinks that people do not think of as salty — that it is difficult for people who want to reduce their sodium intake to succeed.
Since voluntary programs and educational efforts are not working, Dr. Norman Campbell, one of the authors of the new study, says it is time for regulators to step in.
These high levels [of sodium] indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry. Salt reduction programs need to guide industry and oversee it with targets and timelines for foods, monitoring and evaluation, and stronger regulatory measures if the structured voluntary efforts are not effective.
Many health experts believe reducing salt intake will lead to reduced rates of chronic disease, including heart disease and stroke. Industry needs more than a gentle nudge.
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