Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How much or how little salt is good for you?

The Food Police keep changing their minds - "Should you eat eggs; how many eggs per week are OK; should you avoid saturated fat; does poly-unsaturated fat bring other problems; does sodium affect heart disease..."

I'm not going to get into those arguments, but I will suggest that the best way to avoid diet-related diseases is to eat a whole range of foods - fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, nuts and grains, and wash them down with plenty of water and moderate amounts of wine and beer.  Note: this is my personal view and I have no scientific evidence to support it.

I have a policy for this blog that I will not publish comments or articles that are thinly disguised advertising for commercial services.  However, I have made the occasional exception where I think the benefit to readers outweighs the downside.  Today is one of those exceptions.

The FDA recommends a maximum intake of 2,300 mg sodium per day.  In principle, it should be possible to limit our intake.  However, salt is used in many foods and, in some cases, is a critical part of the preservation process, while in others, it's primarily about sensory characteristics of the food.

I was approached by Maggie from Healthline in San Francisco, offering a link to a visualisation of sodium intake, illustrated as the amount found in various foods.

I am not familiar with some of the food products, but it allows readers to evaluate their own sodium intake in more easily digested (sorry) terms than milligrams of sodium.  I think that this link is worth a look.  I was surprised to see how much sodium there is in my favourite smoked salmon and chicken breast, but not at all surprised to see the levels in bread and snacks.  By remembering the high salt foods, consumers can at least moderate their involuntary sodium intake.

A few years ago, my colleagues and I did some formal sensory evaluation on breads baked with various levels of salt.  The results suggest that the average consumer cannot detect a small but significant reduction in salt level in white bread.  The baking industry, and several other sectors in New Zealand have taken steps to reduce sodium in their products to help protect the health of their consumers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More GM foods to be permitted in Europe?

It looks as though individual countries within Europe will be able to permit the growing of genetically modified crops.  This is an unusual departure from the usual European policy, where all member countries have to abide by the rulings.

There are possibly some anomalies: it may be possible to import GM foods, but not to grow them at home.

Not everyone will be happy about this.  However, there is no doubt that GM foods have been more closely studied than most other foods and the insertion of particular genes can be closely controlled.  Other growers, who don't want to have GM crops on their land may face difficulties if pollen spreads from GM to non-GM crops.  And there is the potential for the originators of GM seeds to claim that those growers whose land has been invaded are growing the GM crops without paying royalties etc.

This decision will be well worth watching.