Greetings! It is Friday again, which means it is time for our usual Five for Fridays, a compilation of interesting food and nutrition news from the week. The focus this week was on salt content of foods as the Institute of Medicine came out with a report which recommended setting mandatory national standards for sodium content.
That is why I want to focus on this problem, especially when it comes to popular foods for children. You will be surprised by the amount of salt in these 5 common foods listed below.
It is no secret that the amount of daily salt in an average American diet is too high. According to some estimates, Americans consume 3400 mg of sodium (about 1.5 tsp) per day far in excess of the national dietary recommendation of no more than 2300 mg.
There is a biological reason why we prefer salt in our food – our body needs it for maintaining the electrolyte balance which is essential for normal functioning of our muscles and brain. However, too much salt is now known to be linked high blood pressure, which leads to heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
The finger is being pointed at processed foods and restaurant meals. The issue is not without its own politics however. Although the calls for policing the salt content in foods are getting louder, the FDA has avoided a knee-jerk reaction by suggesting a federal working group and encouraging food companies to voluntarily cut salt from their products. I think it is a smart strategy because I believe that we don’t need any more regulation; rather the market should reject salty foods and demand healthier options. It is not going to happen overnight, but it has the best chance of forcing the food companies to innovate.
Major food companies already see the writing on the wall. According to the Wall Street Journal, General Mills and Kraft Foods have announced plans to cut salt and rework their products. PepsiCo made a similar announcement to cut salt by 25% by 2015 by adopting new salt reduction technologies. Although these are incremental moves, and I don’t support their desire to proliferate even more snacks in the marketplace, it is a step in the right direction.
Here are 5 foods, loved by most children, but surprisingly high in salt (and other bad stuff!):
Hot dogs have become a cultural icon! Kids get hooked on them early and even adults cannot resist them when presented with the opportunity. But did you know that even half of an Oscar Mayer beef frank contains over 400 mg of sodium? Other brands are not much better either and a single serving (typically 1 hot dog) can count for as much as 20% of the daily recommended value. As if that is not enough, most of the calories are from fat with loads of saturated fats and cholesterol. You definitely want to keep this dog on a tight leash as much as possible!
Mac ‘n Cheese
Kraft’s Macroni and Cheese is the big dog in town, another favorite of most kids. In case you haven’t noticed the nutrition label, you may be in for a big surprise because a single serving of about a cup contains over 500 mg sodium. This is unbelievable! Rely on plain pasta instead and make your own cheesy sauce if needed. We like to cook elbow pasta, toss it in a little olive oil and sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese. Another simple recipe uses Alfredo sauce along with some veggies and shrimp for a full meal!
There are so many different types of chips out there which kids like to munch on, but we focus on our attention on Cheetos when it comes to salt content. A 2 oz single serving size pack contains nearly 600 mg sodium. Pay attention to the serving size on the nutrition label because it might show the numbers for only half a pack (that is 1 oz.) but we all know that once you pop the bag, you can’t stop until all of it is gone! We have a strict no-chips policy, particularly no-Cheetos, inside the house. Exceptions are the Disney parks where our twins first got exposed to Cheetos and now they clearly link the two. Good thing we don’t go there very frequently!
Another kid favorite and a regular item on most fast food restaurant menus. 5-6 pieces of them contain over 500 mg of sodium! Frozen chicken nuggets from popular brands like Tyson and Perdue are no better and carry about the same amount. Don’t let the small size of individual nuggets fool you! They all add up very quickly.
Chances are you have at least half a dozen cans of condensed soups in your pantry on any given day. Chicken rice, chicken noodle, cream of mushroom and tomato soup are common household stock items. The soup aisle in any grocery store usually rivals the cereal aisle with a very broad range of soups from many different brands. Condensed soups have become a substitute for a meal but they do come with a lot salt. Even the so-called 25% less sodium chicken noodle soup from Campbell’s contains nearly 700 mg sodium!
Our kids like Campbell’s kids soups and although they contain less sodium (at about 500 mg), it is still quite high. Campbell’s is ahead of the curve in reducing sodium, and although we are encouraged by their efforts, they still have a long way to go. In the meantime, we manage the portion size and add more water than prescribed when making these soups.
Clearly, it is a challenge for most parents to manage salt in their family’s diet because these foods are very popular, easily available at a decent price point, and ready to eat. You don’t need to go cold turkey on any of them, but certainly you have to exercise caution and manage portion size. And whenever possible, choose a simple, home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients.
Enjoy and let me know what is on your mind.