I was shopping with my husband in the “healthy” grocery store food section. Trying to be helpful, Gene drew my attention to delicious looking items that were either too high in sugar, fat, or salt. Even non-GMO, organic, foods can be overloaded with those three tasty delights. I finally told him, “If it looks tasty, I can’t have it. If it’s yucky, I can have all I want!”

So let’s talk about salt, my favorite ingredient. I easily pass up cakes and cookies, but you will take my salted popcorn out of my hand at your own risk. I subscribe to Nutrition Action Health Letter, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and appreciate that it is brief —current issue only 16 pages. I read the entire thing while I ate lunch. This issue was titled “Salt Wars.”

Thanks a bunch.

The Salt Wars by Michael Jacobson

Nutrition Action’s Bonnie Liebman interviewed Michael Jascobson, whose book Salt Wars, the Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet, hit the shelves this October. He is co-founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes this newsletter. Jacobson is a leading voice on improving public nutrition. Here are a few highlights from Liebman’s article.

We know excess salt (sodium) causes high blood pressure, but it also threatens other body systems. It affects kidneys, vision, and even memory. (Now where is that saltshaker? I put it down a minute ago.)

I loved Jacobson’s remarks about medications for high blood pressure. They echo much of what I write. Diet has a great influence on controlling blood pressure, and if you can reduce it by eating a healthy diet, all the better.

According to Jacobson, the average woman eats 3,000 mg of salt per day, and a man 4,000 mg.

I think one silver lining (if there is one) of this horrid pandemic, is that we Americans have been cooking at home more. Restaurant food tastes so darn good because it is full of sodium — and other tasty ingredients I really don’t want to know about. Besides restaurant food, cold cuts, bacon, frozen dinners, and pizza come with a load of salt. However, I did not know bread is a culprit too.

“Nobody thinks bread tastes salty, but at Panera, the piece of baguette that comes on the side has nearly six times as much sodium as the chips,” Jacobson said.

Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the food Giants Hooked us

In Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss (Random House ©2013), he writes how the food industry follows public preferences. When low fat was all the rage, they lowered the fat content of their food, but raised the salt and/or sugar. Lower the sugar? Raise the salt and fat.

The food industry uses tasters to help them find the sweet spot where a consumer wants to eat more and more. Like you can’t eat just one potato chip. He tasted bread, baked without salt, in a food manufacturer’s test kitchen.

“We ate. We gagged. The bread tasted like tin. Without salt, it didn’t even look like the puffy, light bread you buy in the grocery store.”

Industry can substitute sodium chloride with potassium chloride, but it will cost the consumer more. Also, using added chemicals to combat some flavor problems that come with the potassium, kind of defeats health goals. But if you need to lower sodium intake, potassium chloride products are available.

There is Hope

John and Ocean Robbins, of Food Revolution fame, repeatedly assure people that our taste-buds renew every two weeks. They maintain if a person eliminates all salt (not only from the saltshaker, but the sodium included in prepared and processed foods) for only two weeks, those new taste-buds will delight in the natural flavor of foods. Apparently, one will taste flavors in foods that were previously hidden by too much salt. The salt we once added to our food would make our food  taste too salty now.

I must admit I have not taken them up on their theory—yet. When/if I do, I’ll let you know how it works out. Or you let me know how it went. First one to do it wins a salt-free bowl of popcorn. (I heard one can substitute nutritional yeast for salt. Now to figure out how to make it stick to the kernels.)