The dangers of salt
Published Tuesday, October 27, 2009 7:34PM EDT
It seems salt is slowly eating away at us.
Food manufacturers add it to almost everything.
But, if Canadians don't stop bingeing on salt, experts predict a growing number of young people will develop serious health problems.
CTV News put one family's diet choices to the test, and sent their meals off to the lab to see if they need to pass on the salt.
Hard work for experts
Health claims are boldly plastered over many items in the local grocery store.
Sodium chloride is also on the label, but it is not a concern for many shoppers, even though health professionals say Canada is in the middle of a real health-care crisis that is entirely preventable.
"I think the magnitude of the problem is no less than obesity [and] diabetes," said Dr. Martin Bitzan of the Montreal Children's Hospital.
Dietitians like Kate Comeau have a lot of work to do.
"It's being added to so many products that it's hard to keep track through the day," said Comeau.
CTV News recruits a family
Thomas Lapierre, Cary Lawrence, and daughters Paige and Georgia volunteered to let CTV News analyze the amount of salt in everything they eat.
"Salt never, ever concerned me only because I have very low blood pressure," said Lawrence.
Sometimes the family skimps, but certain foods give the salt shaker a workout.
"If it's mashed potatoes I put salt on it," said Paige.
Lapierre does most of the shopping, and says that he usually aims for healthy food.
"I don't buy a lot of really bad stuff," said Lapierre. "We do buy Kraft Dinner. We also make our own soups and bread, we make our own bread, and then the kids get to eat smart bread because it's smart apparently."
Throughout the course of one entire day, CTV News collected samples of everything the family ate.
Corn Flakes, fruit, salami sandwiches and snacks.
Bits from every meal, no matter how small, were grabbed, bagged and tagged, then sent to a certified food laboratory in Dorval
Health concerns change
According to the experts, most Canadians consume 3,100 mg of sodium each day, more than double the recommended amount for adults.
That has a long term effect on health, especially blood pressure, which rises progressively throughout a lifetime.
"Even raising the blood pressure from low-normal to mid-normal or high-normal already has a risk, an inherent risk," said Dr. Bitzan. "It affects the body and will lead to a shortened life on a statistical level."
The target for adults is 1500 mg, about half a teaspoon.
It's not very much, and easily overshot if a person relies on processed foods, even those touted as being healthy.
Going through a grocery store, dietitian Comeau demonstrated how easy it is to eat too much salt with a few slices of bread.
"This is a healthier whole wheat bread and you're seeing even here 430 mg of sodium," said Comeau. "That's for two slices."
Cheese tends to be high in salt, because it's added as a preservative, but deli meats come under scorn from dietitians.
"We know these are things people are bringing every day and packing in their lunches for their kids. 610 mg here just for 44 grams. That's 3-4 slices," said Comeau.
Salt in packaged soups is usually at the top of the charts, as are many pre-packaged salads.
"It can be up to one-third of our daily servings or requirements for just half of a cup of salad," said Comeau.
After collecting samples of the day's meals, including the sausages, cabbage and mashed potatoes the Lapierre family had for dinner, CTV News took the samples to Certispec Food Laboratory for analysis.
Five days later, the results were shown to dietitian Comeau, who confirmed the family was eating much more salt than they should.
"Well it really is coming out to close to what we're seeing across Canada and what we're seeing Canadians are eating," said Comeau.
"Looking specifically at Thomas, at 3800 mg of sodium per day, it is quite high and as well with Georgia, 25 almost 2600 mg per day for a child," said Comeau. "With numbers like this there's obviously a health impact."
Everyone in the family ate more salt than recommended, and even the children had salt levels that were much too high.
"We have learned a lot," said Lapierre.
In the weeks after the analysis, the Lapierre family says it will make some changes.
Those include read labels for salt content, buying more fresh food, and using more herbs and spices to improve flavour, instead of salt.
Doctors say something more has to be done.
"We as a society should have a vested interest in reducing the cost and reducing mortality due to salt," said Dr. Bitzan.
Until then, individuals are on their own to lick the salt habit.