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U.S. Government mandated salt/sodium restrictions?


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I saw a report yesterday from the CSPI--Centers for Science in the Public Interest–sounding the alarm regarding restaurants’ use of salt in their dishes. I went online and found these two articles from their organization published recently and another from 2005 as linked here: May 11, 2009 article and November 14, 2005 article.

The most recent CSPI report specifically cites chain restaurants and their high–in their organization's opinion–levels of sodium in certain meals. I have to admit that I found several of those restaurant meals highlighted to be pretty darned high in milligrams of sodium. In their 2005 article it seems that they were mostly focused on processed foods but now seem to want the federal government to regulate sodium levels in both processed and restaurant foods. From their November 2005 report:

“Salt should be treated as a food additive for the purposes of regulation, with strict limits placed on the salt content of processed foods, according to a petition sent by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week. “

From their article entitled “Heart Attack Entrees with Side Orders of Stroke.” dated May 11, 2009:

“The consumer health group is calling for the FDA to revoke the ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) status of salt in a move to force the food manufacturers to reduce sodium levels in processed foods."

I wanted to garner your opinions on the subject as I have mixed feelings about the role of government in this matter.

On the one hand I appreciate that the government, via the FDA, has mandated that sodium levels be listed on the labels of processed foods so that the consumer can make an informed decision about what they are about to purchase. Personally, I purchase very little in the way of processed foods since I mostly cook from scratch and also have consciously tried to lower the levels of salt in what I prepare for both health and money saving reasons. However, I have a certain level of discomfort about the government burdening an already beleaguered restaurant industry as well as the food processing industry in this horrible economy with more regulations.

I believe in providing consumers with as much information as possible about what's in our food but I also believe that we as consumers are smart enough to make our own decisions–given accurate information–about what to feed ourselves and our families, but I’d like to know what all of you think about this issue.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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As one who cooks everything from scratch and runs a professional kitchen, I have to say I'm barely worried about this. The good guys aren't going to have any problem with the sodium levels. Pretty much all of these high-sodium things are processed junk food. Canned soups, pre-made entrees, etc. They're really bad for people, especially with the obesity epidemic and the diabetes precursors we're seeing in the general population, not ot mention hypertension. If this makes more people aware of the link between sodium and hypertension, obesity and diabetes, and, more importantly, forces restaurants to make more of their food from scratch, I'm all for it.

While I don't believe in regulating sodium levels, I have never believed that educating the consumer is a bad thing. Many chain restaurants have completely refused to divulge their fat/sodium/cholesterol numbers to the public. With the amazing programs out there to analyze food (ChefTec, Mastercook etc) it's just negligent. If commercial processors have to provide this information, shouldn't restaurants?

As you write - "given accurate information." I have no problem with that. But several huge chains provide no information whatsoever (Applebees and TGIF) and I think that's just wrong.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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.......................While I don't believe in regulating sodium levels, I have never believed that educating the consumer is a bad thing. Many chain restaurants have completely refused to divulge their fat/sodium/cholesterol numbers to the public. With the amazing programs out there to analyze food (ChefTec, Mastercook etc) it's just negligent. If commercial processors have to provide this information, shouldn't restaurants?

As you write - "given accurate information." I have no problem with that. But several huge chains provide no information whatsoever (Applebees and TGIF) and I think that's just wrong.

Thanks david. I was hoping to get some insight from a professional like yourself as to whether you would find these regulations burdensome. Considering how many millions of people patronize the chains mentioned in the CSPI article each year, it would be helpful if they could let the consumer know exactly what they're eating. However, I wonder if people who regularly eat at these establishments would really care or change their food choices if the information was provided to them.

I don't know about you, but I was actually quite shocked at the very high levels of sodium in the meals cited. I wonder how the sodium levels of similar dishes/entrees from make it from scratch restaurants compare to the chains? I know that you say that most of the sodium is processed junk, but whenever I see chefs demonstrating a recipe on tv they're usually pretty liberal with the salt (and not shy about the butter either :biggrin: ). I love well seasoned, tasty food and wonder if made from scratch would fare any better under the glare of the CSPI than the chains.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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The medical evidence tying sodium intake to high blood pressure is lacking for all but a specific subset of individuals who have a certain type of hypertension. These peopel, if they are receiving medical care tend to be placed on sodium restrictive diets and aware of things and places that are not necessarily in their best interest. I also see no harm in having information available for those who care to see it, but to mandate reductions of any ingredient across the board unless there is strong scientific evidence to do so is an affront. Education is good, but that should apply to those coming up with these mandates as well.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The packaged food industry needs to do more than label how much sodium is in something they really do need to decrease it...

At my last job, all winter the bosses had some brand or other of a "Healthy Choice" soup 1 can each for lunch, one day a young girl was having a package of Ramen (the biggest salt bomb most people can think of) I checked the Ramen and a soup can from the bin...because the soup is "more than 1 serving per can" it contained more sodium than the Ramen....YECH

tracey

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In a perfect world I would argue that the government should keep it's snoot completely out of how people choose to eat. However, being in a world where personal responsibility no longer exists and everything is somebody elses fault, I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind it. Nobody is hefty because they ate 4 jumbosize burger combos for lunch every day while completely failing to exercise in any way, they're hefty because the government allows those 4 combos to contain too much fat. Nobody takes in too much sodium because they blindly live on fast and convenience foods, they take in too much sodium because the government doesn't make it impossible for them to do so by restricting the sodium in those foods. Of course once the government does restrict it, it won't taste the same. So most of those same people will dump half the salt shaker on it... until the government regulates the sale of home salt shakers or doles out salt by prescription.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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In a perfect world I would argue that the government should keep it's snoot completely out of how people choose to eat. However, being in a world where personal responsibility no longer exists and everything is somebody elses fault, I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind it. Nobody is hefty because they ate 4 jumbosize burger combos for lunch every day while completely failing to exercise in any way, they're hefty because the government allows those 4 combos to contain too much fat. Nobody takes in too much sodium because they blindly live on fast and convenience foods, they take in too much sodium because the government doesn't make it impossible for them to do so by restricting the sodium in those foods. Of course once the government does restrict it, it won't taste the same. So most of those same people will dump half the salt shaker on it... until the government regulates the sale of home salt shakers or doles out salt by prescription.

I think education and regulation are two very different things. When giant chains like Applebee's refuse to even tell their customers what they're eating, that's just plain lazy/evasive. There's no excuse. An educated consumer makes wiser choices - that's been shown time and time again.

You're Canadian, so you probably don't remember this, but back in the 80s there was this thing in schools called "recess" and "gym", and even a Presidential Fitness award program for students. It taught kids about the food pyramid and the importance of exercise and nutrition and all that. It worked, and then as the schools crumbled so did this kind of education. And now we have a rampant obesity epidemic. People don't know what's in their food, and they don't know that their food might be making them sick. The answer isn't regulation, it's education.

I think you missed the point.

And by the way, if you think the government should "keep its snoot completely out of the way people choose to eat," do you think the government should regulate food safety? Or should it just be "caveat emptor" - maybe that chicken was handled correctly, maybe not.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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. . . back in the 80s there was this thing in schools called "recess" and "gym", and even a Presidential Fitness award program for students. It taught kids about the food pyramid and the importance of exercise and nutrition and all that. It worked, and then as the schools crumbled so did this kind of education. And now we have a rampant obesity epidemic.

. . . .

I don't agree with everything he says, but in his latest book, Michael Pollan convincingly dates the start of the so-called obesity epidemic to the introduction of the food pyramid.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Diva,

I agree with what you've said. I have no problem if the government wants to require restaurants to show the amount of sodium in the food they serve. I also like that I can pick up a box or can of something in the grocery store and quickly locate and read the sodium content.

But I don't think it should go any further.

Besides, the pendulum swings. Granted, most processed food companies and (usually chain) restaurants have a heavy hand when it comes to salting their products/food. But as consumer sodium awareness grows, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing a well advertised sodium reduction in these foods and dishes.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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You're Canadian, so you probably don't remember this, but back in the 80s there was this thing in schools called "recess" and "gym", and even a Presidential Fitness award program for students. It taught kids about the food pyramid and the importance of exercise and nutrition and all that. It worked...

Well, I've only been Canadian for about 9 years. Before that I was Ohio-an, then Californian, then Alabamian, so I do remember all of those things (Although I'm not sure what Canadian has to do with it. Recess, gym and the food pyramid exist here too... or do Canadians just generally have bad memories? :raz: ). Anyway, you're right that it was taught but I'll disagree that "it worked" in any meaningful way. Many of those kids from the 80's that were taught those things are now part of the overweight, non-exercising, health problem having group that is causing all of the concern.

I think you missed the point.

That's a possibility, if the whole thing is about education and not regulation then I'm completely fine with it.

And by the way, if you think the government should "keep its snoot completely out of the way people choose to eat," do you think the government should regulate food safety? Or should it just be "caveat emptor" - maybe that chicken was handled correctly, maybe not.

That's a whole different subject. I said in a perfect world the government should keep its snoot completely out of the way people choose to eat. People may choose to eat fatty or high sodium foods even if they know it's not healthy, they won't choose to eat botulism. Telling a food manufacturer or restaurant it has to handle and prepare food safely is not the same as telling someone they should eat less fat and sodium even if they'd prefer not to.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Some years ago, I read that only 17-18% of the population has their blood pressure affected by salt intake. I am not one of them, and see no reason I should be affected by their problem. There is a greater % of diabetes, and I AM one of them, yet no one is proposing we ban sugar even though sugar causes many more problems than salt. Nor should they.

Perfect world or not, the government has no business dictating food choices or anything else. It's not constitutional. Butt out, Feds.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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To make a long story short on my opinion, I just don't think the government (at any level) has any business or any right to tell people what to eat or how to eat it.

The idea that they think they can/should is tyrannical and absurd - and dangerous. First salt, then what?

Actually, it was first trans-fats and now salt. :wink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Perfect world or not, the government has no business dictating food choices or anything else.  It's not constitutional.  Butt out, Feds.

I mostly agree and I really don't care if people choose to eat or drink or smoke whatever they want and as much of it as they want but if/when it catches up with them, suck it up. Don't blame the person selling the poutines because you (in the general sense) chose to eat 5 of them everyday and don't force me to help cover the costs of those choices by making me pay higher taxes or higher health insurance rates depending on where I live. Since the reality is that I do have to help cover those costs, I'm somewhat inclined to agree with trying to find ways to reduce them. That's a bit hypocritical on my part because, as a rule, I'm all for government keeping it's nose out of people's private business.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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  • 2 weeks later...
To make a long story short on my opinion, I just don't think the government (at any level) has any business or any right to tell people what to eat or how to eat it.

The idea that they think they can/should is tyrannical and absurd - and dangerous. First salt, then what?

Actually, it was first trans-fats and now salt. :wink:

Don't forget HF corn syrup. But when they go after my beloved MSG, I'm leaving!

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To make a long story short on my opinion, I just don't think the government (at any level) has any business or any right to tell people what to eat or how to eat it.

The idea that they think they can/should is tyrannical and absurd - and dangerous. First salt, then what?

Actually, it was first trans-fats and now salt. :wink:

Don't forget HF corn syrup. But when they go after my beloved MSG, I'm leaving!

I don't know if you saw the recently repeated Food Network episode of the show Food Detectives hosted by Ted Allen :wub:savvysearch but this particular episode was about the alleged adverse health effects of MSG. The show went on the street and advertised the opening of a brand new Chinese restaurant and offered passersby a free meal with the condition that they would give their honest opinions about the meals they ate.

What the participants didn't know was that the room would be divided by those that were given meals prepared with MSG and those that weren't. After everyone had been served and eaten their meals the diners were asked if they could detect physical symptoms of MSG. The room was divided in half where one side was given food prepared with MSG and other side wasn't. Interestingly the side that had been served meals without MSG reported all kinds of "symptoms" such as headaches, nausea, pressure under their eyes, etc. When informed that they hadn't ingested any MSG, well, it was quite comical IMHO to see their baffled looks.

Ted Allen and the food scientist who appeared with him went on to say that MSG is a natural component of a lot of foods that people eat all the time such as beef, mushrooms, parmesan cheese and especially konbu, the seeweed used in Japan to make delicious broths.

The conclusion of the show was that there was no scientific basis for the food scare widely disseminated regarding MSG and that the ingredient itself had gotten a bad rap.

I wonder what the next "bad food" will be the target of government intervention?

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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I wonder how such a set of restrictions would affect processed foods that are supposed to be ridicously salty. Low-sodium salt cod? Magnesium-salt packed capers?

Or worse, "so much better for you" :hmmm: salt free potato chips, pretzels or pork rinds. *** shudders ***

Oh, the humanity! :laugh:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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2400 mgm of sodium daily is the recommended daily amount. The average about consumed daily is more than 4000 mgm. Sodium is a preservative and sometimes I think that is way chains add it to their bases.

I have seen frozen dinners at 1800 mgm of sodium each serving. (No soy sauce there). I can not eat more than 2400mgm of sodium a day and therefore I can not eat out except places that cook fresh food only. Try to stay on that travelling or just every day life for two weeks. I believe that some government restrictions on sodium exists in Europe.

Our health stats read like a third world country. This is one of the major reasons.

Of course if you are white middle class and have the resoures to deal with this by just letting people know about the sodium content, you are in good shape.

If you disagree with me, keep tract of your sodium for two weeks and just see. Keep in mind that meat can have soduim added to it (beef at Target) (Turkey raw 37 mgm per serving and some brands 380 mgm of sodium.)

Not very one has the freedom of choice. I am for freedom to add our own salt. Please regulate our food industry.

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