Hopeful Trends in Lower Sodium Intake

April 30, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Statistics are surely subject to different interpretations.  Is the glass half full or half empty?  I see some promise in trends others interpret with pessimism.

A company called NPD Group tracks many trends in the markets. One set is the trends in food products purchased. For 30 years NPD Group has published a report called the National Eating Trends (NET) and includes about 20+ major studies. It’s pretty interesting stuff; something that caught my eye is an April 23, 2010 press release. What’s key is that they have discovered a gap between consumers’ concerns about the amount of sodium in their diets and their consumption of low-sodium and sodium-free foods. NPD has learned that the consumption of low-sodium/sodium-free foods has steadily decreased. Essentially the public is more aware of the high sodium in the typical American diet, but they’ve not been expressing as much concern about the dangers of salt between 1991 and 2000. Neither have they been choosing to buy the low sodium options. The vice president and chief industry analyst at the NPD Group and author of Eating Patters in America, Harry Balzer, says, “It’s easier to aspire to a positive behavior than to actually do it.” According to NPD’s report A Look into The Future of Eating Report, (which you must buy, but you can review its table of contents on the link) shares that “caution in serving foods with salt will increase over the next decade.” They are projecting that the number of individuals who feel “a person should be very cautious in serving foods with salt” will increase by 14% by 2018.

Take a look at the simple, informative chart on the NPD website. When I look at it I see something that Harry Balzer doesn’t seem to comment on. It seems to me that the use of low-sodium/low salt products has actually been climbing since 2004 or 5 when it hit bottom. When I see the climbing line in their graph it fills me with hope that the public is taking notice and making changes. The graph also shows that the decline in concern over salt started up again in 2000. It looks to me that the two lines (concern about salt and purchasing low sodium products) may actually converge in the next year or two. So I guess that I’m a little more optimistic than the NPD Group.

The DASH eating plan has shown that it can reduce both developing high blood pressure and can lower an already elevated blood pressure. That’s quite a hope-filled promise.

The DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been around for a couple of decades; it is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI is part of the National Institute of Health). They’ve done good research showing that our diet can have a very strong impact on our blood pressure. Sometimes I wonder if the public was influenced for a while to just rely on medication that physicians can prescribe and to continue eating the way they always had. I just don’t know. What I do know is that I’m personally dedicated to avoiding taking meds as an individual. It isn’t just the costs of the medications, but the fact that side effects so often cause another problem that requires yet another medication.

An interesting fact that I’ve recognized is that what has been called the DASH eating plan is very much like what we now call the Mediterranean-style of eating. The DASH plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, poultry, fish, and nuts in addition to cutting way back on salt and sodium intake. In addition, the plan is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and reduced amounts of red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages. An important fact to notice is that a diet with lots of fruits, and vegetables is high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which have their own separate effect on lowering blood pressure.

Now, for my deepest challenge to the NPD’s pessimistic interpretation: It is simple, and we consumers understand it instantly!  Why should we pay a lot more for less?? A food manufacturer takes out the salt, and charges more for it – a whole lot more. There has been a recession, after all. Remember the soup illustration that I wrote about on March 17, 2010? The low-sodium soup was vastly more expensive than the regular canned soup. In case you didn’t catch that article, it was $13.46 more than the homemade version. I’m not trying to be a braggart, but I think my homemade version (that can easily be made by any of my readers) would be 10 times better tasting than the canned soup; and it had only 1200 mg sodium added to the entire 18-cup pot of soup.  Now I understand that it is not as simple as just taking out the salt.  You have to do food research on palatability, preservation, and the like. But with processed foods, it is the salt that makes it palatable, so the coup-de-gras against the pessimism argument is that not only do you pay a lot more for less, but who wants to buy it if it tastes bad? Healthy food has to be yummy.  When you take cost and palatability into account, it is not a picture of hypocritical consumers saying they are concerned about too much salt, then not buying the lower salt substitutes.  It is smart consumers not paying ridiculously more for less salt and poor taste.

Wherever you fall on the salt concern graph, the solution isn’t to buy more processed food that offers an expensive low-salt version.  So many processed foods depend on salt to disguise the fact they possess so little of anything good. The term “salt-free processed food” is my candidate for the oxymoron of the year.  So let’s get real and use real foods, with spices and yummy features, and with low salt.  I have other suggestions for doing this in my March 1, 2010 blog. , In that post I explained how we can cut way back on salt in our own cooking, yet still enjoy yummy and nutritious meals.

I think that NPD should look at the trends a little more carefully. Those trends tell me that we have made the change in direction. We are beginning to recognize that our hearts, bone, brains, and blood pressure don’t need the high sodium found so liberally supplied in the processed and junk foods.

My hopes and dreams:

  • More people are beginning to make their own meals, not relying so much on processed foods.
  • That people are moving in the right direction – away from high sodium

Planning Thoughts for Mother’s Day

Blueberry Ricotta Gourmet Muffins

These muffins really look and taste (Oh my goodness, they are so good.) like gourmet muffins served at a 5-star bed and breakfast; but you can make them quickly and easily. Dads and kids can make them for mom or mom and kids can make them for grandma. Let mom or grandma think you worked real hard. In addition to the flavor and eye appeal, these muffins are made with only whole grains, extra virgin olive oil and no added sugar, so mom or grandma can feel pampered and healthy at the same time.


Filling ingredients:

1 cup part skim milk ricotta
2 tablespoons Dr. Grandma’s Delight or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 extra large egg

Batter ingredients:

1 packet of Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way
Included packet of extra virgin olive oil
2 extra large eggs (or ½ cup egg substitute)
½ cup water
1 ½ cup to 2 cups blueberries

Topping optional: Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a standard 12 – muffin tin heavily with vegetable spray or use paper liners. Mix the ricotta, Delight and egg (1); then set aside.

Mix the eggs (2), water and oil; add the Dr. Grandma’s Mix packet and mix batter just until the dry and wet ingredients are combined (do not over mix). Fold in the blueberries into the batter.

Put ½ of the batter into each of the 12 muffin tins. Spoon the ricotta filling into each muffin tin. Top each muffin with the other half of the muffin batter. And then sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar or Delight, if desired.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes. Test with a toothpick – toothpick comes out clean from the center of the muffin.

From a mix, easy and healthy - yet delightful.

From a mix, easy and healthy - yet delightful.