When Salt Goes Out, What Goes In?

Just as we’ve been conditioned to eschew fat, salt has also gotten a bad rap. In the same way that much of what is marketed today is low or fat-free, it’s also common to find ‘reduced sodium’ varieties of snack foods, soups, and frozen foods.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland, where everything, including the crystal chandeliers, are carved from salt.

But have you ever stopped to think about what has to happen when food scientists take something out of a product?  They necessarily need to put in one–or more–ingredients to compensate for the change in taste, and it’s a challenging task for the food industry. Any food that’s been altered to remove something–whether it’s salt, or fat, or sugar, or gluten (and the list goes on….), will only sell if it’s palatable. Looking a low-fat yogurt reveals that when the fat goes out, in goes a bunch of chemicals.

Let’s Compare:

Stonyfield Greek Blueberry Yogurt Dannon Light & Fit Greek Nonfat Blueberry Yogurt
Calories 140 80
Fat 4.5 grams 0 grams
Sugar 13 grams 7 grams
Ingredients Whole milk, blueberries, sugar, natural flavor, pectin, carob bean gum, fruit/veg juices Nonfat milk, water, blueberry puree, fructose, corn starch, natural flavor, carmine, sucralose, malic acid, potassium sorbate, acesulfame potassium, sodium citrate

We’re tricked into thinking that by choosing the lower fat, reduced sodium, less sugar, or gluten-free products that we’re making healthier food choices. But that is very misleading. In the yogurt, both the sucralose and acesulfame potassium are artificial sweeteners. While ingesting 13 grams of sugar for more wholesome Stonyfield yogurt isn’t great, it is worth the trade-off of just 6 more grams than the Dannon for chemical sweeteners in its place?

And is salt really the culprit, lurking in our food, waiting to strike, as we’ve been led to believe? In recent years, researchers have been testing the commonly held supposition that salt leads to hypertension and other detrimental health effects. Numerous studies found that salt really isn’t the culprit it was made out to be. While some people, like the Japanese, have a high salt intake and also higher blood pressure levels, the cause may be more genetic than the result of salt usage. For more diverse populations, this correlation does not hold.

The best bet for a more healthful lifestyle is to choose as many foods possible that are easily identifiable. Snack foods and desserts are nice, and in some ways even necessary to keep us on track, but opt for those that are as close to ‘real’ as possible. If you’re going to eat ice cream, eat real ice cream, not a low-fat, sugar-free knock-off. If you’re going to eat potato chips, eat the real thing, not a baked facsimile. But eat these in reasonable portions to maintain a healthier body and mind.

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