Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Low Salt Bandwagon

Now that the salt issue has gotten everyone’s attention, we should be celebrating. Food manufacturers will now cut the sodium content of hundreds of prepared food products. Shopping at our local grocery stores will be so much easier for those following a low sodium regimen. It’ll be so simple and painless too. Not anything like the low fat, sugar free, or low carb crazes.

Sure, low fat products are problematic. When fat is removed, flavor, texture & “mouth-feel” suffer. So manufacturers have to use an assortment of gums and stabilizers to mimic the consistency of fats. But the fat impersonators create “off” flavors, so the amounts of salt & sweetener must be increased to mask the unpleasant taste. The end result is a low fat food that is high in salt, sweetener, and additives.

And yes, sugar free products are equally problematic. For all its supposed faults, at least sugar is a real food. It started out as either sugar cane or sugar beets. In order to make something sugar free, food manufacturers have to use a variety of sweeteners cooked up in a chemist’s lab. Often times, they, too, contribute “off” flavors that also must be disguised. In sugar free baked products, gums and stabilizers may be used to help create an acceptable texture. Again, the end result is a sugar free food that is high in additives.

Similar problems exist with low carb food products. But reducing the sodium content of prepared foods should be easy. All you have to do is just simply cut down on the amount of salt used. That’s what you would do in real life cooking. No need to substitute weird ingredients; no need to resort to gums & stabilizers; no need to disguise a strange flavor. No need to completely overhaul recipes. JUST CUT DOWN THE AMOUNT OF SALT! Nothing could be easier. Sure, the food might taste a bit bland and a bit flat. But that’s to be expected. After all, most prepared foods were way oversalted to begin with.

I eagerly read all the reports of Campbell’s Soups, Heinz, and other food manufacturers lowering the sodium content of their products. However, in the back of my mind I wondered if the low salt bandwagon would travel down the same familiar paths as the low fat, sugar-free, and low carb crazes. Well, I got my answer this week.

I was running low on Heinz salt free ketchup, so I picked some up at the store. No need to check labels because I’ve been buying it for a few years now. It wasn’t until I started to write a new blog entry about the glories of homemade, salt free barbecue sauce that I noticed something different about my newest ketchup bottle. In my blog post, I planned to blather on & on about how easy it was to make your own tasty barbecue sauce by using salt free ketchup as a base. But I stopped typing in mid sentence when I noticed the “Made with AlsoSalt” symbol on the label. I checked the ingredients and discovered that now one (1) tablespoon of Heinz No Salt Ketchup contains 170 mg. of potassium from potassium chloride and L-lysine monohydrocloride. My heart sunk. So this is what the low salt bandwagon is going to look like – phony salt substitutes instead of just lowering salt content.

AlsoSalt is probably a fine product. And I bet the company was thrilled when it got the Heinz contract. You may think I’m making too much of a little added potassium, but I’m tired of artificially “healthy” foods and disgustingly unhealthy foods. Foods with fat substitutes, fake sweeteners with weird aftertastes, strange gums and stabilizers that have the texture of snail slime. Foods with so much sugar you need to see a dentist immediately after consuming them. Foods with so much salt that your mouth burns from eating them. Foods with so much fat and grease that you feel like you need to take a hot shower after munching on them. And now there’s extra potassium.

I know someone who thinks she’s eating a “healthy” breakfast when she sits down to Special K and fat free half & half sprinkled with Equal, coffee with more Equal, and strawberries sprinkled with even more Equal. Yes, it’s low in calories. Yes, it’s low in fat. And, yes, it’s low in sugar. But healthy? Give me a break!

Luckily, Hunt’s still makes salt free ketchup without any kind of salt substitute. Unfortunately, I can’t find it at any of my local grocers, so I’ll have to order it online. I wonder how long it will stay salt-substitute free.

24 comments:

Voce said...

You are so right about this! When you start eating a healthier, natural food diet, the artificial/preservative taste is disgusting. I will be sorry to see all the fake salt additives appearing everywhere. People who take certain types of blood pressure meds are cautioned against using potassium salt substitutes anyway.

Richard Franklin said...

You know as well or better than anyone the role that salt plays in food. Food companies are businesses that are afraid of losing revenue. IMO, it is pointless to wait for the food processors to do anything meaningful. They will stall and delay as long as they can. The only real answer is to make as much of one's own food from real and natural ingredients.

shambo said...

Richard, you're right. One can't look to the big food manufacturers to make quality healthful food. I also agree that anyone following a low sodium diet needs to cook mainly from scratch. But convenience foods have their place.

shambo said...

Voce, I certainly agree with you about the weird artificial taste of so much low fat, low calorie, sugar free foods. And I defintely agree with you about the health concerns regarding the use of potassium salt substitutes. I know my husband's doctor warned him against their use.

Anonymous said...

I've been using your spinach stuffed shells recipe since January and it's great. I also make a lasagna version (I don't use cottage cheese though). The Trader Joes No Salt Marinara is flavorful and I mix it with a sauce that has salt so that works out well. Your stew recipes are also cool (I appreciate your bread efforts but I am not inclined to making low salt bread)

keep up the good work ! :)

shambo said...

Anonymous, thank you for your kind words. I, too, like Trader Joe's no salt marinara. It has a very good flavor that goes well in all kinds of applications. I'm glad you're enjoying the spinach & pasta combo.

I certainly understand your feelings regarding bread baking. Everyone is different and enjoys different things. I like baking (and eating) bread but don't enjoy making desserts much.

I agree with you that combining salt free products with regular products is a great way to lower sodium content.

Richard Franklin said...

Besides my personal health interest in lower salt foods, I am also very intrigued by all the business aspects of the area (I am a business school professor). I do not believe major food companies will ever significantly reduce the sodium in existing products. However, given the growing and increasingly public drumbeat about dietary sodium, it would not surprise me to see one of them introduce a whole new line of products under a new brand to address the market. With a brand name like "Suit Yourself" or "Your Taste" it would probably be upmarket (i.e. expensive) and would likely not sell on the health aspects so much as tout the flavor of higher quality ingredients and emphasize that the consumer controls how it is seasoned. Whether they leave out phony-baloney salt substitutes, I'm not so sure.

shambo said...

Richard, your thoughts are intriguing, to say the least. Creating entirely new product lines emphasizing consumer control would be one way for the giant food manufacturers to take advantage of the low salt bandwagon.

Vermont Country Store already sells a "Salt Your Own! Clam Chowder." That's a similar idea to what you described. Check it out:

http://www.vermontcountrystore.com/browse/Home/Food-Candy/Soups-Chowders/Salt-Your-Own-Clam-Chowder-Set-of-3-Cans/D/30100/P/1:100:1020:100690/I/f10589?evar3=BROWSE

Wesley said...

I am a CHF patient and happened upon your site. I recently stumbled upon a GREAT LS pickle at a meat market:

http://rickspicksnyc.com/low-sodium-pickles

Many are as low as 70 mg. per oz. I have tried three varieties and love The People's Pickle garlic for snacking. I had a quality problem they resolved instantly. I recommend checking into them. Thanks.

Wes Ahn, Irvine CA
twa@cox.net

(I don't blog, so can you please email back to let me know this was received?)

Teresa said...

I make my own ketchup from scratch...it takes all day but is totally worth it. No salt and almost no sugar and it tastes great!

shambo said...

That's wonderful Teresa. Would you mind sharing your recipe?

Elizabeth Tweeton said...

I'm also sick of the fake health food. I'm trying to stay away from high fructose corn syrup and it's just crazy how many products have corn syrup in them. I went to buy some "Natural" brats and one of the main ingredients was high fructose corn syrup. In brats! why? Thanks for the post and the heads up about looking at labels before buying.

shambo said...

Yum, brats! That sounds so good! Sometimes I get tired of spending countless minutes checking out the fine print on the labels. I get excited when I find a product that only contains food I actually recognize or if the ingredient list is really short.

medical equipment said...

i have to say i used to put salt on everything but i started to cut down as i have been told numerous times that it is bad for you.

Nora said...

When you mentioned Also Salt, you noted the postassium level. My mother is on a low sodium diet for cholesterol/high blood pressure but is also dealing with kidney disease and the dietary restrictions of 2 different health issues. Potassium reduction is a part of many kidney patients lives and therefore Also Salt is out for us(for the reasons you stated, as well as the potassium).

I too look forward to the day when there are more packaged/convenience foods that have short ingredient lists and are made of natural, whole foods that I can actually pronounce.

Until then, back to the kitchen for me. Thanks for the great blog and post.

shambo said...

Nora, thanks for your comments. I realize that added potassium can be problematic for many, and that's one reason I was unhappy about the prospect of AlsoSalt being used in the newer low salt products. As you mentioned, many times the very same people who have salt restrictions also have to watch their potassium intact carefully too.

Alicia and Ed said...

I remember back to the day my husband was came home from the hospital diagnosed with kidney disease and put on a low sodium and low potassium diet... it was and still is frustrating to have to read every label, even those that say "no salt" because they may have potassium salt added and are not required to list the potassium content in the nutrition label.

Nora, I would love to share some of the recipes that you have since it sounds like your mother and my husband have similar dietary restrictions. Maybe you'd like to check out my blog as well? It's full of my low sodium/low potassium recipes (with nutrition info) http://lowsodiumcooking.blogspot.com/

shambo said...

Alicia, thanks for your comments. It must be very difficult, indeed, to cook low sodium and low potassium. I'm so glad you & Nora chimed in about watching for potassium chloride in lower salt products.

Nora said...

Alicia,

Thanks for the link to your blog. It looks great. I look forward to trying some of your recipes. I love that the internet lets people connect in this way. I know my mom and I wouldn't have made it without a lot of the help and guidance that we found on various blogs etc.

Thanks again also to you Shambo and your great blog.

Anonymous said...

I likewise ran out of my Hunts no salt ketchup, and my hubby picked up the Heinz variety by mistake. I immediately tasted the metallic added potassium taste and read the label. YUCK! And I'm on the meds that need to avoid potassium overload.

However, low sodium food no longer tastes bland to us. Once we got the salt craving out of our systems, the natural flavors of herbs and spices came shining through. I DID have to relearn how to cook, but that was the silver lining!

shambo said...

I could detect that faint metallic taste too. That's one of the reasons I don't want to use salt substitutes. I'd rather have blander food but avoid that strange additional taste altogether. If a dish needs a little punch of flavor, I'd rather use a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or a drizzle of vinegar.

Sonya said...

I ran across your blog while doing research for my grandmother who was recently diagnosed with Chronic Heart Failure and is on a sodium restrictive diet now. I found a recipe for homemade ketchup in Deceptively Delicious (cookbook). It's a bit of work because it uses carrot puree, but the sodium is about 33mg per Tablespoon (if you use low sodium tomato paste). I'll post the recipe later today on my blog if anyone is interested.

Scott said...

I guess I get to be the dissenter. I have no problem with products that have potassium as a substitute for sodium. The only problem I have is when "no sodium or potassium" products were eliminated in favor of "potassium substitute" products. But as far as adding an additional alternative? That's no problem, and I don't know why we should be denying people another option if they want it. There are definitely plenty of people for whom sodium is a problem but potassium would not be. There are definitely also people who would think potassium chloride tastes a lot better than no sodium or potassium.

To me, the problem with processed food is a lack of low-or-no-salt options. However, I'm not inclined to think other people's per se need to be limited so that mine can be expanded.

shambo said...

Scott, you're right in that there is nothing wrong with potassium chloride being used in products. My concern is that food manufacturers will not stick to creating products with little or no sodium. Instead, the so-called low sodium products will include the addition of potassium chloride. If too many manufacturers do this with too many products, than those watching their sodium intake will be forced back to the days of having little or no convenient products to use and having to make everything from scratch.