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Packaged Meal’s Salt Level Poses Blood Pressure Risk, Doctor Says

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Lunchables, a package of meat, cheese and crackers sold by the Kraft unit of Philip Morris Cos., contains enough salt to raise blood pressure in certain laboratory rats and may pose a health risk to some humans, a Wisconsin physician said Monday.

Lunchables “may be a dangerous snack for families with a history of high blood pressure,” Dr. Clarence Grim of the Medical College of Wisconsin said at a news conference at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Anaheim.

In reply, Kraft called the Wisconsin study “junk science at its worst.”

“The whole premise of the study is preposterous. . . . This is yet another attempt to unnecessarily frighten American consumers about the food they eat,” Kraft said in a statement.

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The Wisconsin medical researchers said their study used three groups of salt-sensitive rats, a special breed “thought to be a good model for salt toxicity in humans.” An estimated 25% of Americans carry a gene that makes them susceptible to higher blood pressure resulting from salt consumption.

One group of rats was fed ground Lunchables containing ham, Swiss cheese and crackers. A second group was fed a ham-cheese-and-crackers diet containing half the salt level of the first, and the third group was fed regular low-salt rat food, which has about one-fifth the salt of Lunchables, Grim said.

“The rats on the Lunchables diet had a 20% increase in blood pressure compared to the third group fed rat chow, and a 10% increase compared to the second group fed a diet containing 50% less salt,” Grim reported.

Along with raised blood pressure, the rats on the ground Lunchables diet also experienced enlarged hearts and kidneys, he added.

Grim said one serving of the Lunchables he used contained 1,780 milligrams of salt, near the 2,000 milligram-level likely to cause high blood pressure in salt-sensitive people and equal to 74% of the daily recommended adult salt intake.

He said Lunchables should carry a label containing “warnings of the toxic effects of salt in people who have high blood pressure or who come from a family with high blood pressure.”

Kraft said the researchers fed “four rats all the Lunchables they can eat for three weeks and then use that to make a sweeping conclusion. Nobody would eat a diet of all Lunchables or any other single food.”

The sodium content of the products is listed on the label and is within government recommendations for the daily value of sodium, Kraft said.

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