Tuesday's New York Times contained a column (and accompanying blog post) that questioned the merits of New York City's efforts to convince restaurant chains and the food industry to halve the amount of salt in their products.
Lowering processed foods' sodium content is not a new idea, but the idea always runs smack into debates among many parties who each have their own priorities. Cutting salt intake lowers blood pressure on average, which is why government agencies such as the USDA advocate keeping salt intake within a specific range. But that relationship is based on a measure of a population, and what works for an individual person doesn't always mesh with what's best for the greater good.
More interesting than rehashing that debate, at least to me, is the concept of "stealth" reduction-- that is, gradually lowering the amount of salt in foods so that people won't notice. I attended a March 30 workshop about developing strategies to reduce sodium intake, which was run by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, where I was surprised to see the extent to which some large food companies are reducing sodium in their products without explicitly telling consumers what is replacing the sodium.
The most striking example came from Burger King, which plans to roll out new low-sodium chicken tenders on May 1. The new tenders will have a 36% reduction in sodium, according to Stephanie Rohm Quirantes, the nutrition and health manager for Burger King's North America division, who announced the new product at the workshop. That percentage is much higher than the typical "stealth" drop. She said that the company was using "sodium replacers" in the new tenders but didn't disclose what those replacers might be. She also said that Burger King isn't planning to directly advertise this change to consumers. Last November, the company got some press when it announced that it is cutting sodium in its kids' meals.
I'll be keeping an eye on Burger King's ingredients page (pdf file) and nutrition page (pdf) over the next few weeks to see whether the info for tenders registers any changes.
What do you think? To what extent should companies be required to disclose ingredients of prepared and processed foods? Do you think a wholesale reduction in foods' sodium content is a good idea?
UPDATE 4/13: updated broken link to nutrition brochure.