Big Food's Salty Spin

Man tastes salt-reduced V8 juiceMan tasting a salt-reduced version of Campbell's V8 juice (Credit: Jessica Kourkounis, the NY Times)Big food companies are using well-established public relations techniques to fight bad publicity over the high salt content in processed foods, employing strategies developed earlier by the tobacco industry to forestall regulatory action against their products. To help delay potential regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limiting the salt content of processed foods, big international food marketer Cargill hired respected Food Network star Alton Brown, to promote salt in a video-and-Website campaign called Salt 101. "Salt is a pretty amazing compound," Brown gushes, "so make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times." The food industry also presented the FDA with its own studies of salt's effects, including two studies commissioned by ConAgra that suggest the country would save billions more in health care costs if we could just get people to eat a little less food overall, instead of just less salty food. (The strategy is to broaden the issue and change the focus to divert attention from salt). The food industry fights efforts to regulate salt content because of the importance of salt in processed foods. It masks bitter flavors and counters a side effect of processed food production called "warmed-over flavor," which, scientists say, makes meat taste like "cardboard" or "damp dog hair." Without salt, corn flakes have a metallic taste and Cheez-Its taste medicinal.


Any analytical chemist who works with food will be able to explain why salt is so popular with food companies. It is an inexpensive ingredient that has the ability to make addicts of huge swathes of the population. It is as simple as that and analogous to newspapers with the word "Sun" in them using scantily-clad women throughout their publications to maintain "readership". Just as "sex sells", so does salt. We humans have as basic a reaction to the taste of salt as we do to water and warmth. The over-use of it by food companies strikes me as no different than the effort of pornographers to tap into the sexual urges of males to keep dropping quarters in peep booths or signing up for "memberships" on-line to fill their urges. I would like to see CMD expose the sources of disinformation that regularly send out statements to the effect that salt has not been proven to cause high blood pressure, only that it "might" exacerbate it: meaning that no one who doesn't already have a problem with hypertension has ever had a health issue with salt. However, feed dollops of salt (or sugar) to mice and they die. As well as being a needed ingredient in our bodies that humans have a hard time detecting an over-abundance of (as any alcoholic has a hard time acknowledging when he has had too much to drink), salt also masks the nasty off-flavours of processed food. Are we so duped that we can't see through the efforts of these companies? Perhaps if there are still those who smoke despite 40 years of effort by governments to expose the health risks, it will take some time before people appreciate the damage being caused by a food industry that doesn't care about your health but only about your appetite for the lowest common denominator of foodstuffs that they can possibly concoct to sustain revenues, whether you die from that concoction or not.

Food tastes better with salt and that is why chef's use it generously in meals. Learning to eat good tasting food in moderation is the key and eating in a social environment (chatting with friends and family) while eating at a slower pace allows you to fill up on smaller portions.

I'm far more worried about glucose-fructose and the still widely ised hydrogenated vergetable oils in our foods.

The general public also needs to take some of the blame for this. We have become a society of I want it now! So we have chosen to use the prepared foods and created a demand for these products.

I for one have chosen to make more home cooked meals for my family. With this I can control the salt intake.

Learn to cook with a stove instead of a microwave and more problems than just salt will be fixed. Obesity for one.

As someone that works outside every day cleaning roofs and homes I find that I have a lot more energy cooking this way.

I love salt with my food! If its bad for me then I'll risk it