Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mark Bittman on salt and processed food

Mr. Bittman just published a blog article on a recent report by the Institutes of Medicine about salt that is causing a bit of a stir. He connects high sodium consumption to processed foods (or junk foods or fast foods), which is not exactly a revelation. But, it is important to understand where most people get most of the sodium in their diet. It's not from salt naturally occurring in foods or salt that home cooks add to food when they cook. It's processed food and restaurant food. If you cook for yourself using unprocessed foods [you can read my discussion of what is a processed food here], you will eat less sodium because so very much is added to processed foods.

Salt is the dominant flavor in many processed foods (sweet being the other biggie) because they are using ingredients that are bland to begin with. For instance, start with a bland starch (corn, wheat), add some artificial flavorings, a bunch of salt, run it through an industrial process and, presto! You have most crispy/crunchy snack foods. If you cook with real ingredients, the salt isn't THE flavor. It's a flavor enhancer, bringing out the natural flavors of nutritious foods.

Mark Bittman sums it up:

"Here’s the thing: Salt intake — like weight, and body mass index — is a convenient baseline for public policy people to talk about. If you focus on eating less salt — and, indeed, less sugar — you will inevitably eat less processed food, fast food, junk food (it’s all the same thing.) If you eat less processed food (etc.) you eat more real food. If you eat more real food, not only are you healthier, but you probably don’t have to pay attention to how much salt you’re eating. Wowie zowie."

Wowie zowie! Cut back on processed foods and you probably don't need to even think about this whole salt controversy.

For School of Eating Good's thoughts on salt and how we use it in our recipes, check out this article from last November. And, you'll get a home-version of microwave popcorn too, just for visiting. :-)

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