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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cheez-It: it's the salt cops

What do R.J. Reynolds and Frito-Lay have in common? A lot, according to a New York Times look at how the salt and processed food industry has consistently and repeatedly resisted efforts to reduce the amount of salt they impose on American palettes.

Do the arguments sound vaguely like those offered by the tobacco companies that the nicotine in their products really wasn't a carcinogen?

Reading the description of how Kellogg's Cheez-Its fail visual and taste tests without salt makes it amply clear that junk food sales -- and not quality and health concerns -- drive the processed food marketplace.

Salt sprinkled on top gives the tongue a quick buzz. More salt in the cheese adds crunch. Still more in the dough blocks the tang that develops during fermentation. In all, a generous cup of Cheez-Its delivers one-third of the daily amount of sodium recommended for most Americans.

As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

A quick buzz? So is that first Dorito like that first puff of a cigarette?

One of the big differences of course, is that hypertension is known as the "silent killer." There are no marathon bike rides or star-studded telethons urging viewers to make a pledge to fight high blood pressure.

Doctors know and tell us constantly what we need to do to reduce our blood pressure: diet and exercise. They happen to be two of the least popular words in the English language to folks who think the KFC Double Down is the greatest thing since sliced bread -- because it lacks bread.

But just because Americans lack the willpower to take care of themselves, doesn't mean that industry can aid and abet their bad habits and shorten their lives. Or help raise the cost of health care.

Now, as I head off to snack on a handful of blue corn tortilla chips, let's be clear that salt is not nicotine. But if the powers that be running the processed food industry continue to behave like the executives who ran the tobacco firms, I will relish (no salt) the opportunity to see them hauled before Congress and explain why they knowingly aided and abetted in killing people and jacking up health care costs.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're not the only culprits. Try looking at the sodium content in any can of soup on a supermarket shelf and you'll be surprised how much salt is in it. I don't know why it has to be so much, especially when you can make a tasty pot of homemade soup, salt included, and have nowhere near the salt. There are some "reduced sodium" choices, but not that much.

May 30, 2010 5:14 PM  

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