British experiment shows food companies can help to reduce hypertension

The only way to prevent millions of people from developing high blood pressure is for companies and restaurants to stop loading up their food with sodium.

By: New York Times | Updated: May 23, 2014 11:31 pm

THOMAS A FARLEY

Hypertension isn’t an inevitable part of the ageing process. It’s better to think of it as chronic sodium intoxication. And, as an important new study from Britain shows, there’s a way to prevent the problem — and to save many, many lives.

The reason that nearly everyone eats way too much sodium is that our food is loaded with it, and often where we don’t taste or expect it. Of course ham and canned soup are full of salt, but so are many foods that are surprising: A blueberry muffin can have more than double the salt of a serving of potato chips. Even healthy-sounding food can pack heavy sodium loads. Two slices of whole wheat bread can have nearly 400 milligrams of sodium.

The only way to prevent millions of people from developing high blood pressure is for companies and restaurants to stop loading up their food with sodium.

Health experts have been asking the food industry to do that for decades. Sure, we all like the taste of salt, but there is much that food companies can do without driving away customers. When salt levels in food drop, people’s preference for salt also shifts down, so no one would notice a gradual reduction in sodium across all foods.

That’s exactly what Britain’s Food Standards Agency has done. It divided processed food into different categories, set salt-reduction targets in each category and then asked companies to meet those targets over time. And as they did that, from 2001 to 2011, sodium consumption by the British fell 15 per cent.

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