Food Is Not Your Enemy

Why You Should Feel Okay About Cooking With Salt

“I don’t cook with salt.” I’ve heard this refrain many times from people who have high blood pressure. I picture them slurping down tasteless soups and suffering through bland steaks, and am happy for my own salt shaker at home.

But then they’ll tell me in passing that they go out to restaurants and/or get takeout several times a week. At which point I may ask, “Do you know how much salt is in the restaurant food you’re eating?”

The answer will shock anyone. Often restaurant entrees have more salt in them than you’re supposed to have in an entire day (which is 1,500 mg, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest). That Olive Garden Garden-Fresh Salad with Italian dressing? 1,930 mg. Chipotle chicken burrito? 2,120 mg. Panera Full Smoked Ham & Swiss Sandwich on rye? 2,350 mg. And forget about Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with jalapeno ranch dressing–you’re looking at almost four days’ worth of salt in that mess (5,530 mg).

And it’s not just the chain restaurants. New York magazine sent a few entrees from popular NYC restaurants to the lab last year to see how much sodium they contained, and it wasn’t pretty (Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg has 3,440 mg, for example).

The fact is that only 10 percent of salt in Americans’ diets comes from salt used in the home. The other 90 percent comes from the restaurant and prepared foods that we eat.

So if you have high blood pressure, or want to prevent yourself from getting it, stop worrying about using salt in your own cooking. If you instead cut back on restaurant, take-out, and frozen meals, you’ll be making a much, much bigger impact when it comes to salt reduction. And your waistline will love that home-cooking as well.

Bloomberg’s Anti-Salt Crusade Bolstered by New Study
January 22, 2010, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, food politics | Tags: ,

Considering that he himself is known to have a heavy hand when it comes to the salt shaker, many are skeptical about New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s new initiative to trim New Yorkers’ salt intake by 25 percent. What is he, our mother?

But a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine, as reported in The New York Times, finds that reducing our salt intake, even by a small amount, can reduce cases of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking, obesity and cholesterol levels.

Says the Times piece:

“If everyone consumed half a teaspoon less salt per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths, according to the study, which was conducted by scientists at University of California San Francisco, Stanford University Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center.”

Only 10 percent of the salt in the American diet comes from our salt shakers–the other 90 percent is found in processed and restaurant foods. If the Bloomberg administration can mandate lower sodium content in the prepared foods we buy, it will absolutely improve the health of New Yorkers. And if, under any new regulations, you find that your new lower-salt fried chicken isn’t salty enough? Then put on your own salt after you buy it. But you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you don’t.

Salt: Safe or Scary?

The latest nutritional bogeyman is partially hydrogenated oil, also called trans-fat. Hello, increased risk of heart disease!

But what about salt, that evildoer of yesteryear that seems to have disappeared from our list of worries? Have we been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the white stuff? Or is salt — whether regular, iodized or sea salt — actually a perfectly safe flavor-enhancer? Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out.

Mayor Mike Doesn’t Always Live By His Own Health Rules

The New York Times ran a piece detailing how New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, pusher of smoking bans, banner of trans-fats, and advocate of calorie information in fast-food joints, himself has a bit of a heavy hand with the salt shaker. He drinks too much coffee. He eats too much sometimes. And did I mention the salt, that substance he’s pushing New Yorkers to consume less of?

Some would charge all this makes Mayor Bloomberg a hypocrite. Me? I’m more forgiving. I understand how hard it can be to eat the right things, and that there’s always a time and place for fried chicken and biscuits. Because Bloomberg eats less than optimally sometimes doesn’t mean that trans-fats are okay. Trans-fats do not make fries or doughnuts taste better, they are simply cheaper and more convenient for the restaurants to use. But that cost savings is dangerous to our health–it has been proven that these lab-concocted fats lead to heart disease. And calorie counts? It’s good for people to know that the meal they are about to order has a full day’s supply of calories. Some people may not change their order because of it, but some will. And the restaurants, fearing sales could slip when people realize how calorie-packed some of their offerings are, will hopefully make changes, both to how they prepare their food and what their menus contain. Is it really necessary for chain restaurants to deep-fry their chicken at a central plant once before it is distributed to each restaurant location, and then again at the restaurant before it’s sent out to the patrons? This is a routine practice, according to David Kessler’s important new book “The End of Overeating,” and a big reason why 1600 calories for a chicken entrée is not unusual at places like the Cheesecake Factory.

So yes, I’m all for Bloomberg’s health initiatives. And if he salts his Saltines, or packs on a few pounds, I’m not going to be the one to point a finger.