Nobody said “hold the salt” when Sussman Volk started selling pastrami on rye sandwiches in New York City in 1887. Sussman, who converted his butcher shop into a restaurant, and Katz’s Deli were among the first to base their Big Apple businesses around an inexpensive food credited to Romanian Jews.
Sodium-rich pastrami sandwiches have been popular in NYC ever since.
But not with the National Salt Reduction Initiative led by New York Mayor Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley. On Jan. 11, they announced that packaged food manufacturers and restaurants should cut down on the salt they put out.
The very next day, the Bloomberg initiative gained the support of the man some call the Nanny State mayor, San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom. “Salt is a very serious issue, and I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for taking a look at it,” Newsom said “We’re looking at it.”
That something that the likes of Bloomberg and Newsom are for would draw opposition came as no surprise.
“Folks, this infuriates me,” radio talker Rush Limbaugh told his 20 million listeners. “It’s none of their business! It is none of their business how much salt I eat!”
“Salt is necessary! They’re going to cause more problems, getting more people frightened to eat any salt, and you have to have it. Now, once they get health care, this is the kind of stuff and even worse that’s going to be coming down the pike,” Limbaugh added.
New York restaurant and deli owners have been split in their reactions to the city’s new initiative. One chef noted that salt has been in the kitchen as long as fire. Mike Zoulis, owner and manager of Tom’s Restaurant, was quoted calling it “a bit dictatorial to me.”
Another Big Apple restaurateur said weaning New Yorkers off so much salt would be a good idea, but so would making them all get a minimum of eight hours of sleep each night.
Across the Atlantic, a salt reduction campaign undertaken in 2004 called “Know Your Numbers” has worked. It focuses on alerting consumers that they only need 1,500 milligrams (mg) of salt daily, not the 4,000 mg. most British were consuming.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative is getting plenty of support.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a statement of support for the efforts to reduce the sodium content of manufactured and restaurant foods.
Most American adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg. of sodium – the equivalent of about two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt – per day, according to CDC research.
“The data are clear,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC. “The majority of Americans are consuming about twice the recommended limit of sodium each day, and not by choice. Achieving substantial reductions in sodium levels by incremental decreases in sodium content across the food supply can save many lives while maintaining good taste.”
Decreasing sodium consumption reduces blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other serious health problems, according to CDC.
In addition, CDC has commissioned an Institute of Medicine study that will outline strategies to reduce sodium consumption to levels recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The claims of some food manufacturers that high sodium levels are required to meet consumer taste demands were also called into question by an Irish study. Consumer testing found commercial lasagna produced with 29 percent less salt and salt substitutes tastier than the normal salt version.
Then there’s been the diet advantage. Chef Andy Bacigalupo took TV’s Dr. Oz’s challenge to eliminate salt from his diet for 28 days and dropped 40 pounds, reducing both his blood pressure and cholesterol in the process.
Fast and processed foods are totally off the menu if you go salt free, the chef says. He is now marketing a salt substitute he developed while living without.
Experts say the best advance for consumers is to read labels and compare brands. A New England Journal of Medicine study published this month says that by reducing salt intake by a teaspoon a day, 100,000 lives annually could be saved by cutting down on high blood pressure leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Another study–this one by the George Institute for International Health based in Sydney, Australia–finds sauces and spreads and processed meats as having the highest average sodium content.
Sodium was lowest in cereals and fruits and vegetables. Two thirds of 33 food categories studied had sodium levels higher than the maximum standards set by the U.K. Food Standards Agency.
“A national salt-reduction program,” the study said, “has enormous potential to avert chronic disease through blood pressure lowering at a fraction of the cost of drug therapies for the management of hypertension (high blood pressure) and should be a national priority.”