Posts Tagged ‘Processed Food’
Less salt in our food supply could save at least half a million Americans from dying prematurely over the next ten years, according to separate studies conducted at three universities, two American and one Canadian. If the average daily salt intake were to drop to 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the number of lives saved could more than double. All study results were published in the medical journal Hypertension, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).
Americans currently consume on average 3,600 milligrams of salt daily, mostly in form of sodium, widely used as an ingredient in processed foods. Sodium is considered a significant contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, all leading causes of death in the U.S. today.
About a third of American adults, or 68 million, suffer from high blood pressure, a.k.a. hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition was identified as a primary or contributing cause of nearly 350,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the last time the CDC has updated its research on the subject.
Despite of these alarming statistics, there are currently no signs of improvement. Even better treatment has only shown mixed results. Less than half (46 percent) of high blood pressure patients have their condition under control, according to the CDC.
Because the salt content in processed food is already added before it reaches the consumer, there is little opportunity to make changes on an individual basis other than limiting one’s choices to fresh items like produce. This would also exclude many options in restaurants.
“Individuals can’t make this choice easily,” said Dr. Kirstin Bibbins-Domingo, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to ABC News. “So maybe we should find ways to work with the food industry,” she suggested.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership started by the New York City Health Department that has expanded to nearly 100 city and state health organizations across the country, has been trying to get food manufacturers and restaurant operators to cut salt by 25 percent or more since 2008, the year of the organization’s inception. The current goal is to achieve a reduction of 20 percent by 2014.
Critics say that such measures are impractical and would make little difference. Public health advocates have been focusing on hypertension as if no other health threats existed, said Morton Satin, Vice President of science and research at the Salt Institute, a trade association for the salt industry, in response to the recent studies to ABC News. The association warns that low salt intake could produce its own set of health problems, especially for the elderly.
While most experts would agree that multiple factors can be responsible for the development of high blood pressure, including genetic predisposition, gender, age and other non-modifiable components, poor diet and lifestyle choices, which are modifiable and therefore preventable risk factors, usually play a much greater role. In a milestone conference on the connections between sodium intake and blood pressure, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the participating scientists concluded that “an abundance of scientific evidence indicates that higher sodium consumption is associated with higher levels of blood pressure, [as demonstrated in] animal studies, observational epidemiologic studies, and clinical studies and trials.” They were also hopeful that more effective strategies could be developed to improve diet and lifestyles patterns that benefit the larger population.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading: “Too Much Salt in Our Food Creates Serious Health Hazards.”
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.
Just as you thought it was safe to indulge again in your favorite pastries, crackers and chips because you were told that trans fats have been all but eliminated by food manufacturers under the mounting pressure from health advocates and lawmakers, you may have to realize that you exhaled too soon.
“Despite all the bad press these artificial, man-made fats have gotten over the years and an increasingly large body of science linking them to health issues from heart disease to ovarian cancer, trans fats are still hiding in processed foods and offerings on restaurant menus,” says Emily Main, a contributing writer and editor for Rodale (rodale.com), an online magazine specializing in issues of health, nutrition and environmental protection.
The use of trans fats in some restaurant chains and school cafeterias has officially been banned in several states and cities across the United States. Colorado state legislators are currently debating a bill that would entirely ban trans fats in school lunches as well as in snacks from vending machines and any other food outlets available on campus. Indiana and New York are considering similar measures.
There is no reason why we could not keep at least the food environment of school children trans fat free, insists Ann Cooper, head of food services at Colorado’s Boulder Valley school district and author of the “Renegade Lunch Lady” blog. “We don’t serve convenience food, we don’t serve junk food,” she says. “That’s where the trans fat is. You cook from scratch, it’s not a problem cutting all the trans fat.”
Trans fats are mostly used in processed foods, although they can naturally occur in small amounts in milk and certain meats. The by far largest quantities eaten by consumers, however, are created in a process called “partial hydrogenation” of unsaturated plant fats or vegetable oils. Partially hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, have become so popular with food manufacturers because they are much cheaper to make than other fat sources. They also extend the shelf life of the foods they are added to and require less refrigeration. Trans fats are commonly applied to fast food items, baked goods and snack foods. They are also utilized for deep-frying in restaurants because they can be used longer than conventional oils before turning rancid.
Over the years, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released a number of recommendations for limiting the use of trans fats for health reasons. One of its contentions is that “trans fatty acids are not [nutritionally] essential and provide no known benefit to human health.” Another, more significant, reason for restricting their use is that trans fats are known to cause LDL (bad) cholesterol levels to increase and HDL (good) cholesterol levels to decrease, thereby contributing to heart disease and other health risks. These findings by the NAS are supported by a comprehensive scientific review of studies on trans fats published in 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), which also concluded that “from a nutritional standpoint, the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm but no apparent benefit.” The study report also confirms the NAS position that there is “no safe level of trans fat consumption.”
According to the NEJM study, between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths can be attributed to trans fats in the diets of Americans every year.
Other studies have suggested that the detriments caused by trans fats reach beyond cardiovascular disease. A study report published in the Archives of Neurology (2/2003) suggested that the consumption of trans fats and saturated fats might promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The American Cancer Society has stated that, while a direct relationship between trans fats and cancer has not been determined, there are indications for a “positive connection between trans fats and prostate cancer.” A high intake of trans fatty acids may also substantially increase the risk of breast cancer, according to one study from France titled the “European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition.” Researchers from around the world have also expressed concern that the widespread consumption of trans fats may be partially responsible for the ever-growing obesity and type 2 diabetes crisis, especially among children and adolescents.
Even in the face of an abundance of scientific evidence and repeated warnings by health experts, consumer advocacy groups and legislators, so far the only way people can completely banish trans fats from their diets is by careful label reading, says Emily Main. Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lets food manufacturers hide the true content of trans fats by allowing them to call their products “trans fats free” as long as the actual amount is 0.5 gram or less per serving. Instead of falling for these false advertisements, says Main, consumers should look for “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredients lists posted on the packaging. Or better yet, eat only fresh foods.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.