I’ve been going through some of my old magazines, and came across the October 2013 edition of Wired that focused on, basically, the science of junk food. I mean, it’s actually quite impressive.
Don’t worry – admiring the science behind the stuff doesn’t translate to “So, we should totally eat it all!” I’m not doing an about-face.
What I would like to do, however, is talk about something that I saw in regards to the creation of a “lo-salt” and “no-salt” version of, well, salt:
Excessive salt consumption was linked to 2.3 million deaths worldwide in 2010. That’s horrible news if you’re an average sodium-loving American but very good news if you happen to be in the salt-replacement business. Although fake salts are nothing new – products like Nu-Salt, AlsoSalt and NoSalt have been on the market for years– the technology being used by Nu-Tek Salt is new. Traditionally, salt replacement manufacturers have removed the sodium chloride, replaced it with potassium chloride, and used expensive flavor enhancers to mask the bitter metallic taste of the substitute mineral. But Sam Rao, Nu-Tek’s chief innovator, developed another process, which marries the potassium chloride, within a single crystal, with an organic acid that blocks its bitterness. The result is a seasoning with as much as 50 per cent less sodium than regular salt but all of the saltiness.
“It’s a very simple, elegant solution,” Nu-Tek president and COO Don Mower says. “You can apply it to a broad range of products, whether it’s processed meat, dairy products, cheeses or sauces.”
Since the Minnesota-based company started selling its potassium chloride to the food industry three years ago, it has developed a network spanning six continents and more than 40 countries. Earlier this year, Bill Gates endorsed Nu-Tek on his blog. “We’ve seen a spike in interest,” Mower says. “A lot of people have put a stake in the ground, saying they’re going to achieve reduction goals by 2015.” Sounds good to us — so long as the stuff still holds fast to the rim of a margarita.”
When you think about this, it’s actually very revolutionary – the ability for people to receive the same taste benefit from merely half the salt. People could finally use less salt, still receive the same taste, and not have to change a thing about their everyday lives.
Because…that’s the point. The consumer doesn’t need to change a thing – you can keep buying the same foods you’ve always enjoyed, eating them in the same quantities in which you’ve always enjoyed them, without having to feel guilt or a compulsion to change.
In theory, this sounds like a great thing! Less damage done to the regular consumer with the same habits! Less need for doctors to tell their patients to change their eating habits! Now, as everyone in the food industry changes over to this technology, all the packaging is now going to say “Now with LESS SALT!” And that guilt you once felt, that made you decide to begin phasing that item out of your diet… might now be gone. You know, because the product is healthier, now.
The same thing goes for the no-sugar sugars, the no-fat fats, all of it. At no point in time have we ever gotten a “substitute” intended to cut our consumption of a detrimental ingredient… that has actually benefited us in the end. For crying out loud, margarine was supposed to take us off of butter, and that wound up killing us. Swapping out fats for, uh, other fats has left us battling with cancers. Again. Swapping out sugar for aspartame has… well, you get the picture.
This is a very special kind of processed food trap. It’s not quite healthwashing – the act of marketing something with a lot of negative qualities as “healthy” because of one minor positive quality – or is it?
While I’m sure it seems like the ideal that the amount of salt would change in a food, thereby making the food healthier, I think we’ve got to look at this a little bit deeper.
Salt rarely acts alone – salt is, without fail, almost always in concert with sugar or fat. Countless books have come out in the past linking the three together, and for good reason – not only do the euphoric feelings that foods with these three ingredients bring about cause an addictive feeling for some (hell, many), but they also come linked with the metabolic trifecta: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Lately, from some of the research I’ve been reading and some of the reading I’ve done, it’s sounding less and less like medical science has as much as a handle on what causes that trifecta as we thought. As much chatter as there was about salt causing heart disease, it could very well be possible that sugar is what’s doing the trick.
So, tell me – in a food that has “reduced” salt, the same amounts of fat and sugar, and a nice new label encouraging you to feel less guilt about your purchase, tell me: are you really better off buying a food that still potentially facilitates an addiction, still has other ingredients that can cause damage, and still makes you want even saltier foods? Because, just like with any other item, if you’re consuming it because you’re chasing a high, you’re going to need more and more of it after time.
In a world that preaches “everything in moderation,” the food industry is still doing everything it can to make sure that you never develop (or maintain) any self control, thereby doubling down on the idea that “personal responsibility” is what determines the health of the consumer. They just make delicious foods, and the consumer should know better. Maybe we should just “know better” by not buying it at all – low-salt, faux-salt, or not.