by Craig Weatherby
Last week, health advocacy groups took advantage of a hearing at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take the agency to task and call for stricter regulations on sodium in food.
Like most natural, traditional foods, salt enjoys “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status under US law, so its use in foods is essentially unregulated, except for the existing requirement to disclose the amount of sodium in packaged foods.
The groups pressed the FDA to require more effective sodium-content labeling and to regulate salt as a food additive.
The American Heart Association (AHA) told the FDA it should require prominent disclosure of sodium content, by placing it on the fronts of food packages.
The average American consumes 12 to 36 times more salt than is needed to maintain health. This equates to between one and three teaspoons of salt a day—that is, 6,000 to 18,000 mg, versus the 500 mg per day considered healthy and adequate.
And most of us aren’t getting this excess salt from shaking it onto our food.
Americans get up to 77 percent of their dietary sodium from processed foods (soups, canned foods, mixes, condiments, etc.) and from prepared or restaurant meals (Mattes RD, Donnelly D 1991).
Some 20 percent of the average person’s salt intake comes from meat and meat products, and, surprisingly, about 35 percent comes from cereal and cereal products.
The Heart Association says that this excess salt consumption contributes to heart disease and strokes, which are the first and third most common causes of death in the US.
And the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that 150,000 US deaths could be prevented annually by cutting the amount of salt in American food products in half.
Heart-health claims for salt reduction bolstered by novel study
There is clear evidence that reducing salt intake lowers blood pressure in most people.
But despite assertions from the AHA and AMA, there has, until recently, been no strong evidence that cutting sodium intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
|Vital Choice Spares the Salt|
We now offer a no-salt-added version of our wildly popular Organic Salmon Marinade Mix, and of course none of our flash-frozen seafood contains added salt.
Compared with national brands, our canned and smoked fish are substantially lower in sodium.
Canned Fish with Less Salt
Less Salt in Our Smoked Salmon
Compared with supermarket and natural market counterparts, our Smoked Salmon and Nova Lox contain substantially less salt:
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and other American universities reported that decreased salt intake among study participants slashed their risk of cardiovascular disease over a 10 to 15 year period by up to 35 percent.
The trial involved more than 3,000 participants aged 30 to 54 with “high-normal” blood pressure levels, which typically lead to hypertension.
The participants were divided into two subgroups, both of which reduced their sodium intake by 25 to 35 percent, while a control group didn't cut back on salt.
One subgroup did this for 18 months, and a larger subgroup observed the salt-restricted regimen for three to four years.
The participants who finished the study were followed for 10 to 15 more years, to record their health status.
Compared with the control group, the salt-cutting groups were 25 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular problems over the next 10 to 15 years, and were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause.
As the authors wrote, “Our study provides unique evidence that sodium reduction might prevent cardiovascular disease...” (Cook NR et al 2007).
Excess salt linked to ulcers and childhood hypertension
Heart woes aren’t the only risk of excess salt, as seen from two recent studies.
Salt raises kids’ blood pressure:
Children and adolescents consuming higher levels of salt in their diets have higher blood pressure, confirms a UK study published today.
The researchers recorded the weekly salt intake and blood pressure of 1,658 children aged between 4 and 18.
At age four, the average British child’s salt intake—excluding salt added in cooking or at the table—was 4,700 mg a day.
And the data showed that salt intake rose steadily as children aged, reaching an average of 6,800 mg among 18 year olds in Britain.
For each extra 1,000 mg of salt ingested, systolic blood pressure rose by an average of 0.4mmHg.
The gap in blood pressure between children with higher and lower salt diets was small.
But the results of a 2007 meta-analysis of controlled salt-reduction trials in children and adolescents suggest that lowering higher-than-average but “normal” blood pressure in childhood is likely to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure in middle age.
Thus, seemingly minor blood pressure reductions in childhood could reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke in adulthood.
Salt raises ulcer risks:
Last May, researchers from the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland made a startling discovery about the role of salt in promoting ulcers.
Most ulcers are caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, and not by stress as was once thought. Antibiotic treatment is usually successful in treating it.
Intrigued by epidemiological evidence that H. pylori infections yield higher rates of severe gastric maladies in populations that eat high-salt diets, lead author Hanan Gancz and his colleagues decided to look at the effect of high salt concentrations on the growth and gene expression of the bacteria.
As Dr. Gancz said in a press release last May, “Epidemiological evidence has long implied that there is a connection between H. pylori and the composition of the human diet. This is especially true for diets rich in salt.”
His team’s test tube experiment showed that while higher salt levels slowed the growth of H. pylori, they also caused a defect in cell division, and that activation (transcription) of two genes responsible for the virulence of the microbe was increased during high-salt conditions.
Taken together, these changes provide a plausible mechanism to explain how salt might exacerbate the effects of an infection by the “ulcer bug.”
- 107th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. May 21-25, 2007, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Accessed online November 28, 2007 at http://www.asm.org/Media/index.asp?bid=50656
- Bumble Bee Foods, LLC. Accessed online November 30, 2007 at http://www.bumblebee.com/products_fam.jsp?famid=1 and http://www.bumblebee.com/products_fam.jsp?famid=2 and http://www.bumblebee.com/products_fam.jsp?famid=5
- Caggiula AW, Milas NC, Kelsey S, Kuller LH. Potassium and blood pressure: the hypertension is preventable study. In: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Preventive Cardiology and the 29th Annual Meeting of the AHA Council on Epidemiology. Washington, DC: June 1989.
- Cook NR, Cutler JA, Obarzanek E, Buring JE, Rexrode KM, Kumanyika SK, Appel LJ, Whelton PK. Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP). BMJ. 2007 Apr 28;334(7599):885. Epub 2007 Apr 20.
- Del Monte Foods/Starkist®. Accessed online November 30, 2007 at http://www.starkist.com/template.asp?section=products/solidwhite.asp and http://www.starkist.com/template.asp?section=products/lowsodium.asp
- Del Monte Foods/Starkist® 2007, Bumble Bee Foods, LLC 2007, and http://www.vitalchoice.com.
- He FJ, Marrero NM, Macgregor GA. Salt and blood pressure in children and adolescents. J Hum Hypertens. 2007 Sep 6; [Epub ahead of print]
- Hypertension Prevention Trial Research Group. The hypertension prevention trial: three-year effects of dietary changes on blood pressure. Arch Intern Med 1990;150:153-62.
- Mattes RD, Donnelly D. Relative contributions of dietary sodium sources. J Am Coll Nutr. 1991 Aug;10(4):383-93.
- Stamler R, Stamler J, Gosch FC, Civinelli J, Fishman J, McKeever P, et al. Primary Prevention of Hypertension by Nutritional-Hygienic Means: final report of a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 1989;262:1801-1807.
- Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. Effects of weight loss and sodium reduction intervention on blood pressure and hypertension incidence in overweight people with highnormal blood pressure. The trials of hypertension prevention, phase II. The trials of hypertension prevention collaborative research group. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:657-67.
- Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. The effects of nonpharmacologic interventions on blood pressure of persons with high normal levels. Results of the trials of hypertension prevention, phase I. JAMA 1992;267:1213-20.