The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that it plans to implement limits on the amount of salt manufacturers may put in processed foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) re-published in the Washington Post, 77% of U.S. salt intake comes from processed food. There are numerous studies indicating that excess salt in one’s diet leads to health problems, including a study (also referenced in the Washington Post article) “by researchers at Columbia and Stanford universities and the University of California at San Francisco found that cutting salt intake by 3 grams a day could prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks, strokes and cases of heart disease.”

The FDA plans to work with food manufacturers to reduce salt gradually, so that U.S. palates can adjust to new tastes. (Basically, so we keep eating processed foods.) The salt industry is, of course, not so happy about the deal. One representative for the salt industry (also quoted in the Post) managed to say with a straight face that new limits “would be a disaster for the public,” and that scientific research describing the effect of salt on health was unclear.

Ha.

I, for one, am overjoyed at the new regulations. In fact, I wish that the FDA implemented them long ago, rather than waiting for food manufacturers to do it voluntarily. (That always works so well in business regulation, right?)

I stay pretty aware of the amount of sodium in the foods I consume. It’s not just because I’m concerned about heart disease and other conditions, although those do play a factor. I have Meniere’s Disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Meniere’s Disease is defined as:

Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes abnormal sensory perceptions, including a sensation of a spinning motion (vertigo), hearing loss usually in one ear, fullness or pressure in the same ear, and ringing in the same ear (tinnitus).

The biggest triggers I’ve experienced are salt, caffeine, and stress. (I think nicotene is also an issue.) Recommended daily salt intake for those diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease is 1,000 to 1,500 mg a day. That’s if I don’t want to go deaf in one ear.

Let’s consider that number for a moment.

  • One package of ramen noodles has 861 mg of sodium.
  • An appetizer of Buffalo Chicken wings at the Cheesecake Factory (a chain in my area) has 4420 mg of sodium. That’s four days of sodium for me.
  • What about the Cheesecake Factory’s healthier options? Well, their edamame has 1260 mg of sodium.
  • Outback Steakhouse‘s “dressed baked potato” has 2350.2 mg of sodium.
  • Panera Bread‘s “Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup” has 1590mg of sodium, which is actually on the low side for soups.
  • Panera’s Greek Salad – a salad – has 1670mg of sodium. (Admittedly, it has feta, which is really salty.) Without the feta, though, it still has 1350 mg of sodium. The dressing alone has 380 mg of sodium.

Need I go on?

I can work to prepare low-sodium foods at home all I want, but it’s really hard to find something when dining out. Like many busy citizens in post-industrial countries, I don’t have time/energy to cook every day. So I endanger my health – and cause potential hearing loss due to Meneriere’s – by eating out.

I really wish these changes were going into effect sooner, as opposed to being gradually phased in over a period of ten years. I know, the public has to get used to it and manufacturers have to adjust yadda yadda yadda.

When my partner and I started living together, she was used to much more liberal amounts of salt in her food. The first time she had a no-salt-added Orange Chicken slow cooked in a clay pot, she thought it was tasteless. After a year of living with us, she thought it was delicious (and didn’t even recognize that she’d eaten it before.) Now when she goes out to places with a lot of sodium, she can taste just how salty things are. At home, we get to appreciate a greater depth of flavor. The nuances of other spices are allowed to come to the forefront. I know it takes time to adjust to lower salt in one’s diet, but it’s so rewarding once you do. Aren’t the health benefits worth it?

So thank you, Food and Drug Administration. I just ask that you hurry up a little bit, before I start going deaf.

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