HIDDEN KILLER IN RESTAURANT AND PROCESSED FOODS: SALT

                            

   As I have noted previously, the sodium we eat, mainly in the form of salt (sodium chloride), is a major cause of high blood pressure (hypertension)—a serious threat to health, usually accounting for premature death from cardiovascular disease. Salt, which is the main source of sodium, contains about 40% of this element. Hypertension affects almost 75 million American adults, rising to a lifetime probability for individuals with advancing age to as high as 90%. Although blood pressure can be controlled with medication, as many as 50% of individuals still remain above desirable levels despite such treatment. Even in those whose blood pressure is controlled with medication, their risk of developing heart disease and stroke remains higher than for those who have a normal blood pressure level naturally.

    With this background, the need for prevention and control of blood pressure is an urgent priority in this—and most other—nations. Although major lifestyle factors (avoiding obesity, regular exercise, moderation of alcohol intake, and diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products) are important in reducing this risk, all the major health organizations have recognized sodium as the preeminent culprit and have recommended that each individual should control the amount of sodium he/she consumes, limiting it no more than 2,300 milligrams daily, and for high risk groups such as those with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, no more that 1,500 mg/day. Unfortunately, the current per capita sodium consumption of American adults is about 3,800 mg/day (not including what is added from the salt shaker). No more than 1% of the population consumes as little as 1,500 mg/day. Although the media have expressed recent doubts about possible risks of consuming too little sodium, these doubts have been debunked by careful analysis.§

      According to one estimate, at least 150,000 premature deaths per year could be prevented in the U.S. alone if the sodium content of packaged and restaurant foods were reduced by 50%.  This is especially meaningful since approximately 33% of calories are obtained from food purchased from restaurants and other sources outside of the home, constituting major and hidden sources of sodium. Overall, approximately 80% of the sodium consumed by Americans has been added by food manufacturers and restaurants. Are these latter companies doing anything to reduce this risk? The answer at present is very little, for one large survey# disclosed only minimal and inconsistent changes in the sodium content of their products—already far too high—between the years 2005 and 2011. To their credit, however, several major companies§ have issued statements committing to lowering sodium levels in some products over the next several years. Especially noteworthy is that Walmart, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, has called on its suppliers to lower sodium levels in their products by 25% by the year 2015. Nevertheless, even if these efforts are implemented, they would not nearly address the necessary reduction in sodium content. Thus short of a major public health initiative involving the government, we are unlikely to see sufficient voluntary changes in our food supply within the next several years.

    So, given insufficient outside support, what can the individual do about this health danger? Urging the food industry voluntarily to label all ingredients contained in processed and restaurant foods would be a step in the right direction, but most are unlikely to do so unless they are forced. A public initiative directed at governmental leaders might also bring about some desired results in this direction. But, at present, limiting sodium intake is a matter of personal choice, and I can help by offering some information about the contents of various processed and restaurant foods, as of the year 2011:

 SUMMARY OF SODIUM LEVELS PER 100 GM (ABOUT 3 OZ) IN MULTIPLE FOOD SUBCATEGORIES, IN DESCENDING ORDER.

PROCESSED FOODS (per 100 gm)        SODIUM

  Food                                                       Milligrams 

Bacon (smoked)                                             1,803

Salad Dressing, Caesar                                  1,079

Barbecue Sauce, Original and honey                989

Hot Dogs                                                            927

Turkey Breast, sliced, Deli                                 878

Macaroni and Cheese                                        831

Pork Sausage                                                     822

Cheese, Cheddar, sliced                                    645

Salsa, medium                                                   611

Pizza, Pepperoni                                               560

Potato Chips and Crisps                                    547

Pizza, Cheese                                                    521

Bread, White                                                      500

Bread, Whole Wheat                                         493

Sauce, Spaghetti, tomato, marinara                407

Soup, Tomato                                                    286

Tuna Fish, white, albacore, canned in water    261

Soup, Vegetable                                                243

Pork, Fresh or Frozen                                      186

Tomatoes, Canned, Diced                                174

Chicken, Fresh or Frozen                                   77

RESTAURANT FOODS

 Sausage Biscuits, breakfast                               895

Chicken strips or tenders                                   736

Cheeseburgers, all sizes                                    568

Pizza, cheese, hand-tossed style                      541

Grilled chicken sandwiches                                525

French fries, medium                                         503

Hamburgers, all sizes                                        428

   This is obviously only a partial list of various foods. Moreover, adding any additional salt with the shaker amplifies the problem—so don’t do it!

    So at this time, all I can do is to wish each and every one of you good luck in your food choices. Also remember to have your blood pressure checked at regular intervals, at least yearly, inasmuch as high blood pressure usually develops in the absence of warning symptoms or signs that might alert you to possible impending disaster!


§ Nutrition Action Healthletter, July/August 2013.

# Jacobson M.F. and McCarter R. Changes in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods, 2005 to 2011. JAMA Internal Medicine. 173;20134:1285-91.

§ Campbell’s Soup, ConAgra Foods, Domino’s Pizza, General Mills, Hormel Foods Corp., McDonald’s, Smithfield Hams, Sodexo, Inc., Subway, and Walmart.

Facebooklinkedinmail
linkedin

RED MEAT: SHOULD YOU CURTAIL IT?

                                      

    Most of us are aware that red meat—when taken in excess—is not a very healthy choice. But what constitutes an excess of this food, and how bad is it? So, let’s take a closer look at these issues:

    First, red meat may shorten your life! In 2012 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated results from more than 120,000 subjects in two studies and found that, after a period of 28 years, those who ate the most red meat (two or more servings per day) had a 30% higher risk of dying than those who ate only about 1/2 serving or less per day. They concluded that 8% of deaths in women and almost 10% in men could be prevented if people consumed less than half a serving of red meat per day. In their study, a single serving was roughly 3 oz. of cooked steak, hamburger, and pork chop, but only 1 oz of sausage, ham, or other processed meat, and 1/2 oz. of bacon. These results fell in line with earlier studies involving half a million people. From this I would conclude that you don’t need to stop eating such meat entirely, but curtailing your intake to about once a week can eliminate most of the risk.

   Second, red meat is not “heart or brain healthy.” This means that the arteriosclerotic process resulting from consumption of this meat can lead to heart attacks and strokes, both resulting from closure of arteries supplying blood to the heart and brain. So even if you survive, you may impair the function of your heart or brain, and with it, your life style can go out the window! The reason: Red meat is a major source of saturated fat in the average diet. This latter fat raises bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and contributes to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). But other compounds in this meat may contribute to these bad effects. These latter substances include nitrite, salt, iron from blood, and also potentially harmful compounds that are created when meats are cooked at high temperatures. Another possible culprit in meat is carnitine, a substance that may, on its own, enhance arteriosclerosis by promoting bacterial growth in the bowel that produces excessive TMAO (trimethylamine-N-exide). This latter substance is capable of producing accelerated heart disease in animals, and higher levels are found in individuals suffering from overt heart disease. These early observations are speculative and require further study for definite conclusions.

   Another threat red meat poses is a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a condition further enhancing the risks of  arteriosclerosis and other bad outcomes.  Several studies have linked processed red meats to an elevated rate of this disorder, and this may also extend to unprocessed red meats as well. One example: Harvard researchers tracked more than 200,000 people for up to 28 years and found that the risk of diabetes increased by 32% for every two ounces of processed meat—and by 12% for every three ounces of unprocessed meat eaten per day. Numerous possible explanations have been advanced explain this relationship, but the meaning is clear for each person’s eating habits. 

    Third, there is a relationship between red meat and cancer. The American Cancer Society has weighed in on this issue with the following statement: “Limit consumption of processed meat and red meat. To reduce your cancer risk, eat no more than 18 oz. per week of red meats such as beef, pork and lamb, and avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausage.” After careful analysis, they found that the risk of colon and rectal cancer rises by about 20% for every serving red or processed meat consumed daily, with additional suggestive evidence that the risk may extend to other cancers such as pancreas, prostate, or esophagus. How red meat could produce cancers is unknown, but there are two possible pathways: 1) N-nitroso compounds—capable of producing cancers in experimental animals—are created by the nitrites used to color and preserve processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunch meats. But even unprocessed red meat seems to increase levels of these compounds, possibly through the effect of iron attached to the blood contained in red meat (as opposed to white meat).  2) When meats are cooked to well done at high temperatures, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed, and these compounds are carcinogenic, at least in animals. This latter danger can be reduced by cooking to less well done at lower temperatures, a measure that applies to all types of meat—red or white.

     Finally, excessive consumption of red meat is environmentally unfriendly. About two-thirds of corn and soybean production in the U.S.A. goes for animal feed rather than for humans. Since it requires about 5-8 lbs of feed to produce one lb of beef or pork, this inefficiency results in excessive use of water and fossil fuels which in turn jeopardizes our environment at a time when the world can ill-afford this burden.  Moreover, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is produced by cattle and has 23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. Adding further to this burden, in order to accommodate increasing farmland to feed animals, forests must be cleared, again causing us to lose a valuable means to clear carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

     So I can simply conclude that those cattle appearing repetitively on TV are passing along the correct advice—”Eat Mor Chikin”! (and Fish, too!)