A few years ago my father had quintuple bypass heart surgery (all five main arteries were blocked). He was in pretty good shape before the surgery, but he did smoke cigarettes and ate a salty, Italian diet. Sausage, pepperoni, pasta, provolone cheese….you get the picture. He was brought up in an Italian household and that’s what they ate.
After his heart surgery, the medical establishment wanted him to restrict his sodium intake to 1500 mg a day. What a nightmare! First of all, gone were all of the Italian foods that my father loved and ate his entire life. Secondly, trying to find new foods that he would actually eat and were low in sodium. There is not much to choose from unless you cook everything from scratch.
At the age of 79, my widowed father was not going to start a new career as a chef. We (his four daughters) tried to find simple solutions for him. It was not easy. The first few months, we were maniacally reading labels and soon realized that sodium was one of the major ingredients in all prepared foods.
Why do the food manufacturers have to add so much salt? I understand the use of salt as a preservative but there are other options that can be used for taste. I have seen a few items on the store shelves that do offer a lower sodium version, but the flavors are very limited. If you can do it for one flavor, you can do it for all. The consumer could simply adjust the taste with their own salt shaker if they would like.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. The average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. If the food manufacturers’ lowered their use of salt in prepared foods, they would be providing a big service to their customers. They may even gain new customers from the people that are trying to cut down on salt. A win-win.
I know, I know. We should prepare our own foods from scratch. Sorry, I don’t have time to do this, and I know many other people feel the same way.
Many of the processed foods on the market sound as if they would be good for you. This Chicken Stir Fry from Birds-Eye pictured below looks as if it would be healthy. Chicken and vegetables – how can this be unhealthy for you, right? Wrong! When you take a look at the label, the sodium is very high and quite frankly unacceptable. I won’t get into all the other things listed in the ingredients that don’t have anything to do with “chicken and vegetables”, but that will have to be for a future post.
I could personally eat 2 cups of this for dinner. That would bring me up to 2240 mg of salt for one meal. I better not have eaten anything else earlier in the day!
My father did quit smoking cigarettes and here is a glimpse of what he now eats:
- pasta with red sauce (sauce made from scratch by his Italian daughter – me)
- fried peppers
- roasted chicken
- fresh fish
- bread (not too great, but he is not giving it up)
I truly believe that the food industry could make some serious changes in how they process food that would benefit everyone. They just want the easy way out (shelf life). In some ways, they are just like your average person because we are all just trying to simplify our lives. After all, we do buy their products.