A 4-year-old federal program aimed at encouraging food companies to voluntarily reduce the salt content of their processed products has accomplished "next to nothing," according to a consumer advocacy group.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest made the charge in a recent review of 100 packaged foods' sodium content. The second annual survey found that more than 60 of the items analyzed last year had virtually the same sodium content as in 1984. Only 23 actually lowered the amount of salt present while 14 raised the level.
The Washington-based group claims that sodium in foods is an important health issue because increased consumption of the seasoning has been linked to high blood pressure, a condition that affects an estimated 60 million Americans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration embarked on a program in 1982 to persuade the food industry to lower salt content in foods. The measure was seen at the time as being preferable to an unwieldy federal regulation requiring the reduction.
Appeal to Agency
The Center for Science, after issuing the results of its salt review, called on the agency to abandon the voluntary approach and establish mandatory limits on the sodium content allowed in processed foods.
The criticism was prompted, in part, by the sizable number of brands that showed dramatic increases in salt levels. For instance, Stouffers' Frozen Soup line raised its sodium content by 41% in the past year to 980 milligrams per serving, up from 697 milligrams in 1984. Others showing large increases were Van De Kamp's Chinese Classics, up 32%; Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Lasagna and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Pizza, which were up 30%, and Quaker Oats' Hot Cereal with a 24% increase.
Products showing a considerable drop in sodium levels during 1985 were Nabisco Cereals with a 47% decline and Stouffers' Frozen Pizza and Stouffers' Frozen Side Dishes, both with a 27% reduction.
Taking Salt's Side--A trade group representing salt manufacturers and processors was quick to seize upon somewhat conflicting information on the sodium issue, which surfaced at the recent annual meeting of the National Food Processors Assn. in Atlanta.
The Alexandria, Va.,-based Salt Institute reports that hypertension researcher, Dr. David A. McCarron, in a speech to the convention, stated that more than a dozen timely medical studies found little or no evidence that sodium intake was related to hypertension and the frequent companion disorder, high blood pressure.
Instead, McCarron told the group that calcium deficiency placed individuals at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure than did a high-sodium diet. His own research seemed to indicate that sodium may even help the body absorb calcium.
The information comes after more than a decade of research linking increased levels of salt intake with a greater incidence of high blood pressure.
Furthermore, McCarron warned that promoting foods on the basis of health claims, such as reduced sodium, was a risky gamble that could backfire on the manufacturer. Consumer backlash, and potential product liability suits, are possible, particularly if future research demonstrates that health claims were made and promoted on the basis of faulty research.
Although the Salt Institute may have found some solace in McCarron's presentation, the same cannot necessarily be said for those in the audience. The National Food Processors Assn. is in favor of allowing a limited number of health claims on food product labels.
Preventive Medicine?--One of the leaders in the battle to loosen federal regulations that prohibit health or medicinal statements on foods is the Kellogg's Co. The firm has actively campaigned for federal approval of its high-fiber cereals' claim that diets rich in such foods reduces the risk of some forms of cancer. Keeping true to its position, the company has now upped the stakes in the high-fiber food product category with its latest breakfast introduction.
Kellogg's has just completed the test marketing of its new All-Bran Cereal With Extra Fiber and is now poised for national distribution. The product claims to contain more fiber than any other cereal available, according to the Grocers Journal of California, and offers about 13 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
A number of medical studies have indicated that individuals with diets high in fiber are less likely to develop illnesses such as colon cancer.
The Currency of Food--One of the least pleasurable aspects of dining out is when the time comes to pay the check. Frequently, the bill for even a modest lunch can be sobering--particularly in the nation's larger cities.
A fascinating indication of just how much money the top independent restaurants generate each year was provided recently by a food industry trade journal.