Sodium health awareness rises in fast food

2013-06-07T00:00:00Z 2013-06-12T12:48:07Z Sodium health awareness rises in fast foodHAILEY MAHAN MEDILL NEWS SERVICE nwitimes.com
June 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The fast-food industry and processed food manufacturers still have not made a significant change in the sodium levels of their products, researchers from Center for Science in the Public Interest and Northwestern University are reporting.

Sodium levels for processed foods decreased by approximately 3.5 percent  while the sodium levels in the fast-food products increased by 2.6 percent, said the study.

"Strong federal action is needed," said Dr. Stephen Havas, professor at Northwestern University and the corresponding author of the study. He said that the voluntary approach to sodium reduction, agreed to by the food industry is just not working and action is needed to save lives.

The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. The researchers studied  sodium levels in 402 processed foods and 78 fast-food restaurant products from 2005 to 2011.

The American Heart Association recommends consumption of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium for everyone over the age of two. Americans consume more than twice that amount--about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.

A diet high in sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease and stroke. "At least 150,000 premature deaths per year could be adverted in the United States if the sodium content in packaged and restaurant foods was reduced by 50 percent," researchers said. African Americans are at a higher risk of these problems related to a high-sodium diet.

People at increased risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke often cannot afford or do not have access to the fruits and vegetables needed for a lower sodium diet, said Dr. Elliott Antman, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and cardiologist at the Bringham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Right now, unless they shop somewhere else, there's not a whole lot of choices," he said. He said he has seen people who are forced to shop far away from their home to access healthier options. "That's a terrible, terrible shame for someone to have to do that," he said.

But not everyone agrees that the food industry isn't doing enough. John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologists, said that while some companies aren't working as hard as others, sodium reduction is "a No. 1  priority for many companies."

One of the problems companies are running into is getting the public to actually buy low-sodium products.

"If you tell someone that a product is low in sodium they automatically thing it tastes bad," Ruff said. "If a product doesn't sell and a company loses money, can you blame them for doing a very slow, gradual reduction?"

The Food and Drug Administration currently is reviewing the sodium reduction issue, but in the meantime there are ways to lower the sodium content.

Among other things, Havas suggested that consumers ask which items a restaurant can prepare without any extra salt.

"People need to take some action," he said.  The fast-food industry and processed food manufacturers still have not made a significant change in the sodium levels of their products, researchers from Center for Science in the Public Interest and Northwestern University are reporting.

Sodium levels for processed foods decreased by approximately 3.5 percent  while the sodium levels in the fast-food products increased by 2.6 percent, said the study.

"Strong federal action is needed," said Dr. Stephen Havas, professor at Northwestern University and the corresponding author of the study. He said that the voluntary approach to sodium reduction, agreed to by the food industry is just not working and action is needed to save lives.

The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. The researchers studied  sodium levels in 402 processed foods and 78 fast-food restaurant products from 2005 to 2011.

The American Heart Association recommends consumption of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium for everyone over the age of two. Americans consume more than twice that amount--about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.

A diet high in sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease and stroke. "At least 150,000 premature deaths per year could be adverted in the United States if the sodium content in packaged and restaurant foods was reduced by 50 percent," researchers said. African Americans are at a higher risk of these problems related to a high-sodium diet.

People at increased risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke often cannot afford or do not have access to the fruits and vegetables needed for a lower sodium diet, said Dr. Elliott Antman, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and cardiologist at the Bringham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Right now, unless they shop somewhere else, there's not a whole lot of choices," he said. He said he has seen people who are forced to shop far away from their home to access healthier options. "That's a terrible, terrible shame for someone to have to do that," he said.

But not everyone agrees that the food industry isn't doing enough. John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologists, said that while some companies aren't working as hard as others, sodium reduction is "a No. 1  priority for many companies."

One of the problems companies are running into is getting the public to actually buy low-sodium products.

"If you tell someone that a product is low in sodium they automatically thing it tastes bad," Ruff said. "If a product doesn't sell and a company loses money, can you blame them for doing a very slow, gradual reduction?"

The Food and Drug Administration currently is reviewing the sodium reduction issue, but in the meantime there are ways to lower the sodium content.

Among other things, Havas suggested that consumers ask which items a restaurant can prepare without any extra salt.

"People need to take some action," he said.  

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