Who is Salt?

Perhaps it’s best that one of the action flicks of the summer 2010 would be entitled “Salt”.  Although the film starring Angelina Jolie has little to nothing to do with nutrition, the connotation is valid as the concerns over sodium in our American diet has the recurring headline theme in many media pieces including today’s Palm Beach Post article in the Accent section “Is Salt At Fault”.  You can find Ms. Staci Sturrock’s report online at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/why-salt-in-your-diet-could-be-the-783042.html

It was probably about five years ago that I really started to pay attention to the salt buzz.  I admit I scoffed at the idea of cutting down my salt intake as I am a professed lover of salty things divine such as Greek feta, Kalamata olives, other tangy cheeses, chips and the list goes on.  

Being a busy twenty-something with nothing but career-climbing and a young husband in mind, I figured that we were healthy and didn’t need to worry about salt unless we were diagnosed with something that prescribed omission of the condiment.  How very ignorant I was, the proverbial blissful existence was what I was leading.

It wasn’t until we had family that was facing health issues that demanded attention, including cutting the salt, that we finally started to examine the idea more closely.  If you get to read Ms. Sturrock’s piece, you may learn for the first time that many of our processed foods already include an incredible amount of salt and you may not recognize it in the ingredients listed.

My daily dinner menu for my family now focuses on trying to put together meals that come from the freshest possible items.  By cutting out the processed foods I have more control over just how much seasoning is used, including salt.  In the process I’ve learned some fun tricks, like how lemon or lime can help season certain vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, thus reducing the reliance on salt.

Ms. Sturrock’s article does a good job of stating statistics sourced from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as polling from health specialists.  She reports that the FDA is “considering a plan to place restrictions on the amount of salt that manufacturers are allowed to add to processed foods.”  Toward the end of Ms. Sturrock’s piece, Dr. Andy Larson of South Florida’s JFK Medical Center brings up another valid concern about our diet saying ” ‘are we sure that we want to single out salt when the real problem is the junk calories in the food — the processed flours and unnecessary vegetable oils that have the calories.?’ ”

My one political comment concerning Ms. Sturrock’s report would be that I’m not so sure that I support government mandates on what food producers put out on the consumer market.  As a proponent of personal responsibility, I truly believe if Americans en masse start shopping for fresher or low-sodium alternatives, companies will take notice and react accordingly to supply the demand of the consumers.  More government intervention means more tax dollars out the door and so I think we are adults that can be responsible for the choice of getting the white-caked french fries or finding another choice of potato preparation.

My husband and I have noticed how the overall reduction of salt in our diet has benefited us health-wise.  Of course we’re not perfect and there are times that we probably far exceed the daily recommended 2300 mg (a teaspoon size) of sodium–especially when eating out at a restaurant or the ever-forbidden fast-food joint such as McDonald’s (you know that’s not fairy dust on the fries).

It turns out that if you can try to weed out processed foods in your daily diet, you’ll end up tackling other nutrition pitfalls.  I’m not suggesting you go for the “raw diet” that has become quite the fad in some circles, but there are ways you can incorporate more simple ingredients.  For example, when you make pasta dinners, why not reach for a can or jar of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce sans salt and then add your own Italian flare: it can be fresh or dried herbs of your own choice and perhaps just a pinch of sea salt and sugar, voila spaghetti sauce a la your creation!

Who is Salt? I still want to watch the Jolie movie, hopefully the subliminal effect of its title will help us remember to pay a little more mind to sodium’s place in our diets so that we don’t have to halt the salt completely when we hit our sixties or seventies.

Note: For those already above the aforementioned age-group, I hope you’re mitigating your diet as needed, for more information you can check our government’s guidelines: www.fda.gov


Apple Juice and Arsenic: A Recent Story I Missed!

This past Saturday consisted of a day road trip to my Alma Mater University of Florida along with my husband and son T.A.  It was UF’s Orange & Blue spring exhibition game and basically a fun time for current students and alumni and their friend and families to hang out and say go Gators!  My son T.A. took it all in stride and even clapped in delight during the scrimmage.  However, it was dinner conversation that night with my old college roommate that affected me the most Saturday: she asked me if I’d seen the report from the St. Petersburg Times regarding the amounts of arsenic found in apple juice. What?

First, I needed to read the story written by Mr. Tom Marshall, dated March 14 and I’ve provided a link for you if you are interested as well from Florida’s St. Petersburg Times website: http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2010/reports/apple-juice/

The overview of this report is that the St. Petersburg Times decided to commission independent testing of apple juice at least 18 different  juice brands including Motts, Apple & Eve and Tree Top to name a few.  More than 1/4 of those apple juices tested reflected arsenic levels between 25 to 35 parts ber billion (ppb).  To give you and I a better explanation to compare that test result, the FDA since 2006 considers that the nation’s drinking water supply should not have more than 10 ppb of arsenic occurring.

I further discovered how ignorant I am, or perhaps how little I learned in chemistry as a teenager, because evidently arsenic is “naturally occurring” and there is no way to avoid it completely.  The same goes for arsenic in items such as our drinking water but the apple juice issue (and in the past other testing reports by others on pear and grape juice) is more sinister because the arsenic is actually applied in the groves as an ingredient in pesticide.  Great-so we parents have already become super-paranoid about all the poisons and pollutants in our food supply and then we learn that the brilliant farmers in not only China but even our own country have settled on arsenic as a deterrent rather than utilize better options.

China does happen to be supplying more than 60% of our apple juice concentrate at this time.  Other countries include Argentina, Turkey and ourselves.  Yet American control over the apple juice market happens to be less than a 1/5 of the market.  I gleaned from this article that the individual companies that produce and package the apple juice seem the ones who are responsible for testing the concentrate they receive from abroad.  Although there is one instance cited where the FDA did step in and alerted their border officials of incoming pear juice from China in 2008 only after it was Canada officials who tested and found that the juice contained between 28-32 ppb of arsenic.

If you’re wondering what our government, basically the FDA (food and drug administration) is doing or saying about this subject of arsenic levels in juice, this quote is a great summary:  ‘ “We don’t have any evidence at this point to say that we feel there’s a risk issue that you need to be mindful of,” said P. Michael Bolger, the Food and Drug Administration’s chief of chemical hazards assessment.’

Following talk of the 2008 Chinese pear juice incident at our neighboring border with Canada, Bolger then went on to say: ‘ “the FDA has found some apple juice samples with more than 25 ppb of arsenic following increased testing. But the average for those tests was 9 ppb. More evidence is needed to justify setting limits on arsenic in juice, Bolger said. “We’ve got to generate the appropriate information, because you can’t fly blind,” he said. “You have to have some good data to back it up.” ‘

Thankfully, the general consensus among scientists interviewed for this particular article did say that low levels of arsenic in our water and juices does not pose serious health threats.  Of course, if arsenic is showing up in higher levels consistently and as for our children who may drink a large quantity of juice, the arsenic rising in our body’s chemistry can contribute to cancerous conditions as well as hormonal changes, et cetera.

I invite to read this article if you have time and maybe even jump on www.fda.gov for more information.  From what I can tell in the St. Petersburg piece, there isn’t a federal standard yet provided for our juice companies to follow regarding what levels of arsenic are safe.  Some companies use the water standard  of no more than 10 ppb of arsenic allowed, but I do believe if the government espouses to protect its nation’s food supply, then a juice regulation is required.

In the meantime, use your best judgement as a parent, you always make the right choices for your children so trust that.  If you feel better about watering down juice, your kid’s dentist will applaud you.  If you want to use more organic juice products just be aware that they all haven’t stopped using China-sourced apple juice concentrate and arsenic still can occur in soil years after it was used in an orchard. 

Hopefully, through parent-pressure, we can encourage the powers-that-be to nudge the FDA on this one.   And thank you to my old college roommate for alerting me on a recent story that I missed because I’m so busy like all of you mamas and papas!


Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"