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Salt & Processed Foods: Are They Truly Necessary?

Long before the advent of refrigeration, salt was used to cure and store foods in order to delay food spoiling bacteria. Learn more about how far the use of salt has come and why less of it should be used.

Since ancient times, salt has been recognized as an important part of the human diet. Not only is it significant to our overall diet, but it also has historically played a large role in preserving foods.

Long before the advent of refrigeration, salt was used to cure and store foods in order to delay food spoiling bacteria. Its true that today, we have the modern convenience of refrigeration and freezing for the storage of foods, but the majority of us demand that our foods continue to stay fresher longer and that they remain convenient for our consumption.

Therefore for the processed food industry, salt has continued to play what they consider to be a pivotal role in their ability to extend the shelf life of their food products. The industry has consistently resisted calls to reduce salt levels in many of their products citing concerns that too low levels of salt would cause food spoiling bacteria to flourish. It sounds like a reasonable argument on the surface, but is it?

On Average, How Much Sodium Do You Consume Daily?

Less Than 500 mg
500 - 1,000 mg
1,000 - 1,500 mg
1,500 - 2,400 mg
Over 2,400 mg

A recent study conducted by the University of Limerick in Ireland may offer evidence to dispute that claim. Scientists checked safety levels of low salt foods by studying the behavior of different strains of food spoilage bacteria inoculated into model systems.

The team discovered the growth of different sorts of typical food spoilage bacteria were in fact unaffected by the various salt levels tested. The conclusion being that low salt foods were just as safe as conventionally processed ones.

This is good news for countless Americans trying to reduce their salt intake levels. Healthy adults require only 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat less than 2,300 milligrams (one teaspoon) of salt every day.

Unfortunately, most people are consuming double that amount and it is due largely because of our diets of processed foods. If the industry can begin to eliminate the high levels of salt used, or begin to at least offer more choices of low-salt or sodium alternatives, it could definitely make a difference to individuals who are susceptible to high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular ailments.

Are you truly aware of just how much salt/sodium there is in processed foods? Here are just a few examples from the Department of Agriculture that should give you some idea:

  • Dehydrated onion soup mix (1 packet): 3,132 milligrams
  • Seasoned bread crumbs (1 cup): 2,111 milligrams
  • Spaghetti sauce (1 cup): 1,203 milligrams
  • Canned chicken noodle soup (1 cup): 1,106 milligrams
  • Frozen turkey and gravy (5 ounces): 787 milligrams
  • Canned cream-style corn (1 cup): 730 milligrams
  • Teriyaki sauce (1 tablespoon): 690 milligrams
  • Vegetable juice cocktail (1 cup): 653 milligrams
  • Beef or pork salami (2 slices): 604 milligrams

Hard to imagine that one cup of spaghetti sauce will account for over half of your daily salt intake requirement, but it does. The simple lesson here is read the labels, stay aware, and live longer healthier lives.

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