Saturday, October 27, 2007

Salt: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore!

While not a professional nutritionist by any stretch, and not nearly as careful as I could be when determining my snack options, I've come a long since the days I used to have BBQ chips for breakfast.

It turns out that might not have been so good for me. Who knew??

I suppose neither was the time that I scooped a spoonful of salt into a cup of tea. Of course, that was by accident. I thought while drinking it that the contents of my cup tasted...odd.

I read the article below yesterday while on my lunch break at work and wolfing down a 12" Subway Veggie Delite. It was written by one Megan Gillis of the Sun newspaper chain and is a clear, brief rundown of the impact of salt on your diet. Some of the statistics mentioned may surprise you.

Limiting salt in the food we eat would be the biggest boon to public health since safe drinking water and sewers, a coalition of health groups argued yesterday.

The group was urging action to stop an epidemic of high blood pressure linked to strokes, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and dementia.

The average Canadian eats about a third more salt than the healthy limit and double what they need, most of it from processed foods including bread, cereal, soups and processed fast food.

Research suggests that if Canadians ate only healthy amounts of sodium, the number of strokes and cases of heart disease could drop by 30% and one in three Canadians with hypertension -- a million people -- would have normal blood pressure, saving $430 million a year in health costs and 4 million doctor visits.

"The individual can only do so much and now more food companies have to step up," Canadian Stroke Network director Dr. Kevin Willis said. "If we discovered that a food additive was causing 30% of all cancers, something would be done right away. The same action is needed with sodium to prevent stroke, heart disease and other vascular illness."

Health Minister Tony Clement established an expert working group yesterday as a first step toward a national strategy to cut salt consumption.

But health groups want the government to move quickly to set standards for salt in food, track and report how much Canadians are eating, launch an education campaign and provide incentives to food makers.

The goal is to reduce sodium consumption to healthy levels by 2020.

Meanwhile, people should read labels, eat less processed and fast food and cook more meals at home based on naturally low-sodium foods such as fruits and vegetables.

"It's been said reducing dietary sodium would result in the biggest improvement in public health since clean water and drains," said Sen. Wilbert Keon, the former head of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

"It's not just adults who have to worry," Keon said. "Evidence published recently shows that sodium is harmful to children, causing high blood pressure and damage to blood vessels that will lead to ill health later in life.

"In my own work as a heart surgeon, I've seen the impact of poor diet on disease and damaged hearts. It's critical we take a population level approach to reduce sodium in the food supply, make it easier for people to make healthier choices and educate the population on the link between sodium and hypertension."

It's not just the salt shaker. Processed foods can be packed with sodium. Research shows that even Canadians who say they never add salt to their food are consuming too much sodium. A small number of foods -- pizza, sandwiches, subs, burgers and hot dogs, soups and pasta dishes -- account for a third of the sodium we eat.

- Pizza Pizza pepperoni slice (large takeout slice), 1,710 mg.

- Pizza Pizza Big Bacon Bonanza (takeout only), 2,090 mg.

- McDonald's Big Mac, 1,020 mg.

- Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburger, 1,460 mg.

- Subway 6" spicy Italian sub, 1,580 mg.

- Subway 6" ham sub, 1,060 mg.

- East Side Mario's baked ziti pasta with sausage, 2,310 mg.

- East Side Mario's Bigga Spaghetti with Meatballs, 4,290 mg

Source: National Sodium Policy Statement

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