Kraft will cut sodium by 10%? That’s great! But you’re far from off the hook


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Today’s announcement by Kraft Foods that it will reduce the salt in its North American products by an average of 10% is welcome news. Or rather, for consumers, a welcome small step.

For lovers of processed food -- which is to say most Americans -- a 10% salt reduction in one manufacturer’s products (even by ubiquitous Kraft) won’t do much to improve overall health. As the American Heart Assn. points out: ‘The majority (up to 75%) of sodium that Americans consume comes from sodium added to processed foods by manufacturers.’


More from that organization here, complete with information on how much sodium the average American consumes a day (we’ll come back to this) -- and what ‘low-sodium,’ ‘reduced sodium,’ etc., actually mean on a food label.

Here’s today’s story, which notes that the Kraft announcement follows similar efforts by ConAgra Foods and Campbell Soup. As examples, the story says the salt in Oscar Mayer Bologna will be cut by 17%, Easy Mac Cups by 20% and Velveeta by 10%.

Sounds good, but if the 420 milligrams of sodium in a one-ounce serving of Velveeta is cut by 10%, that still leaves the cheese-product aficionado with 378 milligrams of sodium. Numbers are courtesy of Calorie Count. And, again, that’s per one-ounce serving. It seems unlikely that true Velveeta lovers consume just one ounce. (Say what you will, the stuff melts like a dream.)

You may sniff. Perhaps you haven’t touched Velveeta since you learned the difference between ‘cheese’ and ‘cheese-like.’ Perhaps you’re horrified by the very existence of a product called Easy Mac Cup. Fine. Ever buy tomato sauce? Soups? Condiments? (Really, who makes their own condiments?) If so, check the labels. Really. Just check the labels.

A diet heavy on the processed foods could take that hit of 10% and still have plenty of sodium left over to work its magic on heart disease and stroke risk. So too could the diets not ‘heavy’ on processed foods.

In fact, most Americans are advised to consume only about 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Enough of the lecture. This is where we turn helpful...

Note that sodium can be tricky. It’s not always labeled simply ‘sodium,’ much less ‘salt.’ It can also be listed as:

- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

- Baking soda

- Baking powder

- Disodium phosphate

- Sodium alginate

- Sodium nitrate or nitrite

So says the Mayo Clinic in Sodium: Are you getting too much? part of its guide to nutrition and healthy eating. That’s why the ‘% Daily Value’ for sodium comes in handy.

Similarly, WebMD offers a fine guide to watching your sodium when eating out. (One tip: Skip the casseroles.)

And the L.A. Times recently offered this package on controlling blood pressure (it’s about so much more than food), plus a blog roundup of recent research about the perils of America’s love affair with salt.

Our attention to this whole salt-consumption is obviously growing; hence the manufacturers’ attention to it. That’s great. And needed, as you’ll see -- because here’s where we share how much sodium the average American consumes every day... are you ready? 3,436 milligrams.

We really need to learn to make our own pasta sauce.

-- Tami Dennis