Why put salt in baby food? I asked that with my first Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives (Crown) way back in 1978 and so did a lot of consumer advocates. The manufacturers responded by taking the sodium chloride out food jars and the babies didn’t even notice.


Some manufacturers told me they really added salt to baby food because mothers tasted their little children’s food before they spooned it in the youngster’s mouth. If the mother thought it tasted bland, they didn’t buy the food again.


Food manufacturers have now found themselves being pressured to reduce the salt in adult food. My theory has always been that salt is used to cover up the lack of natural taste in processed food. Several food companies have introduced low sodium products to the market and most have been discontinued due to disappointing sales figures. The problem is, these foods are either flavorless or they leave a bitter aftertaste.


Why are we addicted to salt? Since childhood snacks, cereals, and other offerings to children are loaded with salt. There is also hidden salt in chickens and hams injected with salt water to preserve and to add weight to them and fish can be found lying on salted ice in the ship and on the shore.


 The Institute of Medicine states 25 percent of the American population is salt sensitive. A high salt intake often leads to high blood pressure and kidney problems as well as strokes and heart attacks.


In all fairness, I have to admit I am highly sensitive to salt because of condition I inherited from my father. I have found it is very difficult to avoid salted food when eating out. Servers, who think they will probably never see me again, do not hesitate to say the restaurant doesn’t use salt in cooking. . I landed in the hospital emergency room once believing a waiter in a restaurant that there was no salt in my entrée. A host who invites us to dinner assures me that very little salt is used in her dishes


Shopping is also a problem for those of us who are salt sensitive. Sometimes, you have to learn to read between the lines. There are terms on packages that may be misleading. For example “unsalted”,” processed without salt” or “no salt added” may signify that the producer didn’t put any additional salt in during processing but the food may still be naturally high in sodium. For example, a low sodium soy sauce has 390 mg of sodium per teaspoon (and who can use only a teaspoon of soy sauce on a dish).  A popular tomato-vegetable drink with “no salt added” has 90 milligrams per 4.5 fluid ounces. Salt can also be listed under dozens of “sodium” designations such as monosodium glutamate and sodium caseinate adding additional salt to your diet. The FDA labeling requirements for sodium are:


  •  Low sodium ,,,,                        140 mg or less preserving


  •  Very low sodium….                   less than 35 mg per serving


  •  Sodium free—               .           less than 5 mg per serving



So if you are not as extremely salt sensitive as I am and you still, for you overall health, wish to lower your salt intake, here are some hints:


The basic sources of cereals are salt free–wheat, corn, rice and oats.  Yet instant oatmeal may contain about 360 mg per serving, instant corn grits 590 mg and instant cream of wheat 180 mg. If you’re willing to cook the non-instant cereals, you can avoid the high salt. It’s providing the “instant” that dishes out the sodium. Some 70 sodium compounds are used in foods, as you will see in this book. The National Academy of Sciences, whose experts establish dietary guidelines, recommends that we ingest no more than 2400 milligrams of sodium for the entire day. The average American ingests 3500 to 7000 milligrams. (A teaspoon of salt has about 2,000 milligrams of sodium.). If the numbers for sodium look very low on a label, look again and be aware of the difference between milligrams (mg) and grams (gr). Some companies make you think there is less by saying on 2 grams of sodium, for example, which is really 2000 milligrams.


There is hope because consumers and organizations such as CPS have kept the pressure on manufacturers to lower the salt content in processed and restaurant food. The news from Campbell’s, the top-selling soup maker, has announced lower sea salt levels in its classic tomato soup, a further 15 per cent reduction in 25 Healthy Request soups to 410mg sodium (1.03g salt), and six V8 soups with reduced sodium. For food firms, the challenge lies in delivering products that still meet our taste expectations and are safe since salt is also used as a preservative.


A science policy paper published by the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently noted that there are more reduced-sodium products on the market, as manufacturers are on-board with the healthier eating drive. However the paper, called “Sodium and Salt: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media”, highlighted steps being taken in the industry to change salt-taste preferences and said: “Some food processors are actively following step-down plans to gradually reduce the sodium contents of their products.” Such reductions are over various lengths of time and “help reshape and reduce loyal consumers’ salt-taste preferences towards these foods”.

Although research into alternative ingredients and technologies has expanded in recent years and continues to grow in areas such as salt substitutes and taste enhancers, the GMA added that manufacturers are wary of alienating customers by altering flavor and texture profiles too quickly, as consumers are loyal and sensitive to changes in their favorite brands.


In the meantime, consumer organizations such as The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C., recently hit out at food firms for the salt levels in their foods, as a survey showed that the average sodium content of 528 packaged and restaurant foods stayed essentially the same between 2005 and 2008. CSPI said the big brand-to-brand differences in numerous categories of foods indicated that some companies “could easily lower sodium levels and still have perfectly marketable products.


The CSPI petitioned the FDA in 2005 to change the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of salt. FDA held a hearing in September 2007. The Institutes of Medicine convened an ad hoc consensus committee to review and make recommendations about ways to reduce Americans’ dietary sodium intake levels. It is expected to publish a report in February 2010, but a series of open meetings are planned throughout this year. If you are in the neighborhood of the meetings or you are adept at email, make your voice heard.