Sodium intake remains a problem for people in industrialized countries. Although there has been a shifted focus and new regulations on nutrition and health, there is still far too much salt in much of the food we consume.
A new study showed that while the sodium content in processed foods declined between 2005 and 2011, the change was not enough, only an average of 3.5% It was also revealed that in that time period, restaurant foods did not decline in sodium content at all; in fact, the sodium levels actually increased by 2.6%.
The study analyzed the sodium levels in 402 processed foods such as pizza, potato chips, and canned soup, as well as menu items from 78 large chain restaurants, such as Arby’s, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, and Subway.
In looking at the 402 processed foods, researchers found that sodium levels were reduced in 168 products, 115 did not change, and 119 actually increased sodium content in the six year time period.
For the 78 restaurant foods examined. sodium level decreased in 33 items and increased in 43 menu items, remaining unchanged in just two.
The researchers involved in the study wrote that stronger action and government-mandated limits are needed to reduce sodium levels where they really need to be to reduce the number of people with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
How much sodium should the average person ingest per day? Dietary guidelines suggest only about 1500 mg/day of sodium. Currently, the average daily intake is 3800 mg. It is clearly a challenge that will require companies to make major reductions in their products and likely require consumers to change their eating habits.
Sodium is not the only nutritional area our restaurants are failing us. Other research points to high calorie intakes, with single meals that sometimes exceed the recommended daily calories for an entire day’s worth of food and are on average over 50% of the daily calories we should eat.
It is estimated that 40% of meals in the United States are eaten outside of the home. Thus, it may be more important than ever to focus our attention on the nutritional content of restaurant foods.
Jacobson MF, Havas S, McCarter R. Changes in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods, 2005 to 2011. JAMA Internal Medicine 2013; published online May 13, 2013. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6154.