Mmm Mmm Good – the Salt of the Earth

August 2, 2011 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetes Management by Joyce Bunderson

On July 12, 2011 Campbell soup officers gave a presentation to their investors. Although the COO said at the beginning of the meeting that reducing the sodium was the ‘right thing for Campbell’s to do,’ later in the meeting, she said that they would be putting back some of the salt in 31 of their Select Harvest soups and almost all of the salt in most of their other lines. Salt is going back to where it was before the reduction.

The COO said that “…..resources are being reallocated from sodium reduction to a broader range of compelling consumer benefits. And there will be an “investment of more than $100 million in brand building and accelerated innovation.” (Are those other words foundations for marketing and advertising?) The president of Campbell’s North American said the company will, “focus less on sodium innovation and price promotion to drive stock up.” They’re not talking soup stock, here.

Although my expertise is not in running multi-billion dollar, multi-national (120 countries) food processing mega-corporations, I can understand that the main focus in a for-profit company like Campbell’s (including its relatives: Pepperidge Farm, Arnott’s, Pace, Prego, Stock Pot, V8, Swanson, and Franco-American) is making profit for the investors. These huge mega-corps are not in the business of promoting public health. Their job is to make products that sell at a profit.

The fact is that the public may not be “putting their mouth where their money is” when they mouth off about wanting health and less salt.  Rather, they continue to “put their money where their mouth is” (their mouth’s habituated taste buds).  This is at the base of the problem. Americans may be saying that we want products with less salt, but they want it without paying the added price. If the food processors wanted to make flavorful and healthy soup without so much salt, they could add herbs, spices, and vegetables, but they all cost more than cheap salt. Profit reigns.

Elaine Watson quoted Lori Colman of the marketing agency Colman Brohan Davis, who said, “Packaged foods have been so laden with sodium for so long that consumers believe that’s what food tastes like … and when there isn’t as much sodium, they complain that food is bland. CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies have essentially ‘hooked’ people on the flavor and now use ‘people want flavor’ as a reason to keep it going.”

I like Colman’s idea for resolution:

“So, I get it [Campbell’s decision]. But I also think that an iconic brand like Campbell’s has missed a real leadership opportunity in consumer education. What if instead of delivering a massive dose of sodium to all, they could have added sodium education on the label? ‘Add ¼ tsp salt if you like your soup more salty. The maximum recommended level of sodium intake is 2300 mg per day. 1/4 tsp salt = 500 mg sodium..'

“Taking personal responsibility for your sodium intake is really hard because of our desire for convenience. But everyone can reach for the salt shaker.”

I complain fairly frequently about the marketers of processed food, but Colman has pointed out something that so many of us, who champion the improvement in public nutrition and health, have been perplexed with. The fact is that complex systems are at play. Certainly, a huge sector of the country’s economic health relies on what people buy. On the other hand, without looking up the exact number of dollars that we are spending to take care of those who have strokes, heart disease, blindness, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, which are all antagonized by a high sodium intake, it seems that those dollars could somehow be compared with the public eating a slightly higher priced product. Can we, in reality, if we take just a moment to think, balance a slight price increase with the huge costs and suffering of the resulting disease states?

The human body needs only 180 mg to 500 mg a day for proper functioning; that’s less than ¼ teaspoon of salt. An estimated 77% of the sodium we consume comes from processed or restaurant foods. Since only about 6% is coming from salt added at the table and 5% is coming from salt added during cooking; then it stands to reason that the best way to get your sodium under control is to eat fewer processed and restaurant foods.

The recommendation is to limit intake of sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt).  As an average, Americans are consuming more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day (about 1 ½ teaspoons of salt). But if you are 51 years old or older, African-American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the recommendation drops to no more than 1,500 mg (about 2/3 teaspoon) per day.

Maybe some public health education is at the crux of the present need to move away from a high sodium diet. Experts say that it takes an average of 8 to 12 weeks to adjust to a low-salt diet; so it takes a true commitment to adjust to a lower sodium diet. Most of us acquire the taste for salt as children; and many have been eating the high sodium way for decades. My suggestion is that the 2 or 3-month commitment is worth the potential benefit. I’ve known and cared for those in the hospital, with the resulting diseases. If we can reduce our risk, it is certainly worth considerable effort.

I realize that it is not easy to know how much sodium you are consuming; but being a person who enjoys salty foods, I can tell you that it can be done. And after you become accustomed to a lower sodium diet, you will find the overly salted processed and restaurant foods difficult to eat. If you haven’t started, it probably sounds hard to believe, but it really happens, I tell you this from my own experience.

My suggestion is to do it gradually. Gradually, begin to eat more and more, foods under your control – decrease the processed foods. Slowly decrease them until they are at a very low level compared to whole and home-cooked foods. Learn what vinegar, lemon juice, herbs, and spices can do for your food. If you didn’t read Budget Friendly Homemade Soup, read it to get an idea of what is going on with the food processors.

Watch out for some of the highest sodium foods: sports drinks, breads, crackers, snack foods, dairy products, canned soups, sauces (one cup canned tomato sauce has about 1,284 mg), vegetable and tomato juice, deli meats [hot dogs (540 mg in one meat Oscar Mayer Weiner.) Of course, there are other important reasons not to eat processed meat.].

I want to point out a few little facts about processed soup. When Campbell’s says that their Healthy Request soups (the version with the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark) have only 410 mg of sodium per serving, be sure to realize that is for a one cup serving of reconstituted soup. Pour out 1 cup of water in a bowl and see what that looks like. There’re not enough nutrients in processed soup to count on it as a main course. One of those small 10 to 11 ounce cans is supposed to make 2.5 servings. Please do count the chicken and carrot flecks in that serving. If you choose to prepare and eat an entire can of soup for one person, do realize that equals 1045 mg of sodium. You’ve just spent almost half an entire day’s sodium goal on one under-nourishing meal item.

If you use the regular Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, it’s 890 mg per cup; and it’s 660 mg per cup until the change back to 890 mg is finalized. That’s 2225 mg of sodium if you reconstitute the 10 or 11 ounce can with water – 75 mg. below an entire day’s worth. Note: you will probably eat something else with sodium in the day. While you can still get the 25% less sodium versions, which would be a mere 1650 mg for a 11 ounce can. So you see, Campbell’s attempt to reduce sodium did not really make processed soup a low sodium item.

Surprise yourself

If you haven’t made homemade soup before and want to surprise yourself, and you want it to be easy, why not start by cooking vegetables. This is not really a recipe, but an idea:

Lightly brown a large chopped onion, in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a soup pot. Add a couple cloves of minced garlic and some herbs that you have on hand. (Consider: parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, basil, bay leaves, ground black pepper, and celery seed – use more than one, if you like; and use dry, if that’s what you have). Add 2 or 3 quarts of water, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.

Choose some chopped vegetables. What’s on sale or what’s at the farmers’ market? Consider: celery, including some leaves; chopped carrots; mushrooms; eggplant; chopped beet, kale or collard greens; zucchini or yellow squash, asparagus butt ends; bell peppers, pea pods, or chard (stems and leaves). You may want to put the carrots, mushrooms, eggplant, and asparagus butt ends, in first; while you finish chopping other vegetables.

When the carrots are tender, add a can of drained beans, if desired, (kidney, white, red, pinto, garbanzo). If you want, add cooked whole grain noodles, or wheat berries, or brown rice. Add a teaspoon or two of squeezed lemon or lime juice; or a can of low sodium recipe ready diced tomatoes.

If you need animal protein, add a can of chicken breasts or leftover chicken meat. The very last step is, tasting the soup. If it needs more salt, add it at the very end, a little at a time; salt doesn’t need to cook for a long time to make the food salty – just a stir or two of your soupspoon. You may be surprised how little salt you need for your entire pot of remarkably flavorful soup. You can make a hundred variations on these suggestions.

When you purchase processed vegetable soup, it’s not just the load of sodium that’s the problem, but the scarcity of vegetables. If you make a big pot of vegetable soup, you may also surprise yourself, how economically you can feed your entire family.

Reduce sodium gradually, and it will be painless. Consider making a goal that moves you from where you are in number of meals prepared away from home to a greater number of meals prepared at home. If you find something that works for you and your family, write it on a list and you will have created a list of home cooked foods that you enjoy and can refer to when making menu decisions. Learning to cook can have more than one Mmm Mmm Good outcome. You may discover that, in addition to a lower sodium diet, you eat a much lower calorie, more nutrient dense, delicious diet. Good Health Can Be Yummy!

Pictures of my dirty vegetables - inside secret: The taste is wonderful.

These dirty carrots were transformed into, grandson approved taste treats.

These baby squash cleaned up 'real nice' to tickle Dr. Grandpa's tastebuds.