You would think locusts were raining down based on the news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might consider trying to get food manufacturers to reduce the salt intake of their products.
Sounds pretty passive, but you wouldn't think that based on the stories you've read.
If we relied purely on the salt we have in our house for our sodium content, we would be in a lot better shape. But the salt that is worrying a number of Americans, their doctors and other medical personnel, and food activists comes from processed foods and restaurant fare.
And why do processed foods have lots of salt (and sugar/high-fructose corn syrup)? Cost.
Yes, cost. Salt and high-fructose corn syrup are prevalent in dishes because they are cheap fillers. Adding flavor without adding too much to the bottom line. But there is an even more sinister factor at work.
Extra salt and extra sugar makes us do two different things. One is drink more, usually soft drinks involving sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other artificial sweeteners. The other is eat more of the product. Putting extra salt especially makes you want to eat more of the product.
The manufacturers of said food cry that they will suffer if salt is reduced, and technically, this is completely true. Their adjustments will require our adjustments. When you go from complete junk food to healthier food, your taste buds do freak out.
There is an impression, especially as Americans, that we can't handle slight adjustments in our food, and they are probably right. Look how long McDonald's dragged its feet trying to get rid of trans fat in its French fries. And those French fries taste different.
Yet the extra salt isn't doing us any good. We do need some salt to live, but the extra salt we intake does nothing positive, both directly and indirectly.
There is so understandable confusion over how much sodium we should get. The traditional standard is 2,300 milligrams, which sounds like a lot. The standard for those who need to watch their salt is 1,500 milligrams. The average American — a scary concept to consider — gets 3,400 milligrams. If you eat reasonably well, you might not get 3,400 milligrams, which means someone else is getting even more the 3,400.
A teaspoon of salt is about 2,300 milligrams. Even when we shake the salt shaker, we don't have a sense of how much we are getting.
Water retention and drinking too many soft drinks are the usual outward signs of eating too much salt. But it's difficult to pay attention to it because salt intake feels invisible. The good news is maybe we can tone it down without too much trouble.
Getting companies to voluntarily reduce salt isn't easy for the obvious reasons. But these companies also feel entitled because they know salt will make you eat more. We aren't trying to tell companies that they can't make money; just find a healthier way for us where you still make enough profit.