Tag Archives: Heart-Healthy-Foods

Veggie Burgers Highlighted in NYT

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The veggie burger at the NoMad Bar in New York City uses grains, fresh vegetables, quinoa and lentils, “to replace the texture of meat,” chef Daniel Humm said, with eggs, cream cheese and Dijon mustard to hold it together. (CreditAlex Wroblewski/The New York Times)

When a laudatory 1,300-word article is published about you in The New York Times, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve ‘arrived’ – long after the likes of well-liked blogger Vegan Miche began singing your praises.

‘You’, in this instance, is the veggie burger – a contradiction in terms that, hardly surprisingly, appeals to many carnivores as well is vegetarians, vegans and other special-diet followers.

The Times noted that, until relatively recently, the veggie burger was “a culinary nobody, mushy and maligned. But when a chef as decorated as Daniel Humm turns his attention to perfecting a veggie burger, the signal is clear: That second-fiddle vegetarian staple has arrived.”

Mr. Humm has a restaurant in Manhattan called Eleven Madison Park. It has three Michelin stars, so it’s a pretty good bet his “carefully constructed” version veggie burger – it uses grains, fresh vegetables, quinoa and lentils “to replace the texture of meat,” he told The Times – also employs “eggs, cream cheese and Dijon mustard to hold it together.”

He added that, “Nothing goes into the burger that doesn’t serve a purpose.”

His mission was to make this item “to be able to stand next to our beef burger and our chicken burger, not be a dish we just put on the menu for the sake of it,” he added.

He offers it up at his NoMadBar, which is steps away from Eleven Madison Park.

The Times article continued (today, August 31):

After decades as an amateur player eager for a big break, the veggie burger has made its ascent, becoming a destination dish and hashtag darling as never before.

The newest generation of veggie burgers has moved from the edges of the menu — at best an interesting challenge for chefs to tackle — to its center, a dish to offer not just for the sake of meat-avoiding customers, but to make memorable in its own right. To do that, they are turning to a vast arsenal of ingredients and techniques to get the flavor, texture and heft they’re seeking.

April Bloomfield created a veggie burger inspired by soondae, a dark Korean blood sausage commonly stuffed with noodles, rice or vegetables, to serve at Salvation Burger, which is set to reopen this fall after a fire damaged the kitchen. (Her version is made with sweet-potato noodles, lentils, carrots, carrot juice and garam masala.)

Chef Brooks Headley, formerly a pastry chef at Del Posto in New York, has a restaurant, Superiority Burger restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, that is built around his veggie burger, “arguably the most acclaimed burger of any kind in New York recently,” The Times said.

The Times article went on and on, and included links to an assortment of veggie burger recipes. They did a good job of highlighting what an increasing number of people will be striving for as they increasingly build ‘healthful eating’ into their lifestyles. (Butchers, beware!)

The American Heart Assn: Kids Should Consume <25 grams of ‘added sugar’ daily

 

How much “added sugar” is more than enough for children and teens? Any amount exceeding six teaspoons (25 grams), the American Heart Association (AHA) advised this week, in a  scientific statement published August 22 in the AHA journal Circulation.

Children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to the scientific statement recommending a specific limit on added sugars for children, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Six teaspoons of added sugars is equivalent to about 100 calories or 25 grams.

“Our target recommendation is the same for all children between the ages of 2 and 18 to keep it simple for parents and public health advocates,” said Miriam Vos, M.D., Ms.P.H, lead author, nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

“For most children, eating no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day is a healthy and achievable target,” said Vos.

Eating foods high in added sugars throughout childhood is linked to the development of risk factors for heart disease, such as an increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults.

“Children who eat foods loaded with added sugars tend to eat fewer healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health,” said Vos.

The likelihood of children developing these health problems rises with an increase in the amount of added sugars consumed. Overweight children who continue to take in more added sugars are more likely to be insulin resistant, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, according to the statement.

“There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high – the typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars,” said Vos.

The statement was written by a panel of experts who did a comprehensive review of scientific research on the effect of added sugars on children’s health, which presented challenges common to this kind of nutrition research.

“Studies of nutrients such as added sugars are challenging, but over time the number of studies in children has increased,” said Vos. “We believe the scientific evidence for our recommendations is strong and having a specific amount to target will significantly help parents and public health advocates provide the best nutrition possible for our children.”

The expert panel also recommended that added sugars should not be included at all in the diet of children under the age of 2 years. The calorie needs of children in this age group are lower than older children and adults, so there is little room for food and beverages containing added sugars that don’t provide them with good nutrition. In addition, taste preferences begin early in life, so limiting added sugars may help children develop a life-long preference for healthier foods.

Added sugars are any sugars – including table sugar, fructose and honey – either used in processing and preparing foods or beverages, added to foods at the table or eaten separately. Starting in July 2018, food manufacturers will be required to list the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel making it much easier to follow the recommendations in this scientific statement.

“Until then, the best way to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet is to serve mostly foods that are high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, and to limit foods with little nutritional value,” said Vos.

Estimated calories needed by children range from 1,000 a day for a sedentary 2-year-old to 2,400 for an active 14–18-year-old girl and 3,200 for an active 16–18-year-old boy.

“If your child is eating the right amount of calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, there isn’t much room in their food “budget” for low-value junk foods, which is where most added sugars are found,” said Vos.

The statement notes that one of the most common sources of added sugars is sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, fruit-flavored and sports drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks.

“Children should not drink more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened drink a week yet they are currently drinking their age in sugary drink servings each and every week,” said Vos.

Because of the lack of research for or against the routine use of non-nutritive sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharine and sucralose in the diets of children, the authors felt they could not make a recommendation for or against these no-calorie sweeteners. In addition, it is not known whether the high sugar content in 100 percent fruit juices should cause the same concerns as beverages with added sugars.

Other tips for cutting back on foods with added sugars include avoiding sweet processed foods, which tend to be loaded with added sugars, such as cereal bars, cookies, cakes and many foods marketed specifically to children, like sweet cereals.

Dr. Vos noted that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that added sugars should make up less than 10 percent of calories, which aligns with these guidelines.

 

No Locally-Available Fruits and Veggies Increases Risk of Early Heart Disease Signs

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The just-cancelled ‘Nightly Show’ starring Larry Wilmore had a segment last March about ‘food deserts.’ The show’s reporter interviewed Esther Fuchs, of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia. She commented on a report that “some 23 and a half million people in America, including some six and a half million children,” live in “food deserts” – places, often in major cities, where fresh fruits and vegetables simply aren’t available. Those people, Fuchs said, “live in areas more than one mile from a supermarket selling fruits and vegetables.”

To check this out, Reporter Jordan Carlos went to Camden, New Jersey, right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest city in the U.S. He started walking in a poor-looking neighborhood, searching for a store selling fruits and vegetables. He had to travel five miles before he encountered one!

Given that part of his trek was along a rail line, you can assume his ‘finding’ was slightly exaggerated – but only slightly. I live in a far-from-poor small town, and I’m well over a mile from the nearest “supermarket selling fruits and vegetables”. There is a small food store roughly half a mile from me. But its produce selection is so poor it seems to be oriented toward the town’s least-discriminating food shoppers.

And that’s a shame, for several reasons. Key among them is the fact – as reported August 15 in the journal Circulation (paywall) – that people who can’t shop locally for fresh produce are more likely to have early signs of heart disease. Michigan-based researchers (from, among others, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Grand Valley State University) studied data from nearly 6,000 adults who had an initial heart CT scan and several follow-up scans over 12 years. The availability of fresh food near their homes was key to the condition of their arteries, their study declared.

“We found that healthy food stores within one mile of their home was the only significant factor that reduced or slowed the progression of calcium buildup in coronary arteries,” co-lead author Ella August said in a journal news release. She is a clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“Our results point to a need for greater awareness of the potential health threat posed by the scarcity of healthy grocery options in certain neighborhoods,” August added.

Co-lead author Jeffrey Wing said, “The thought is that greater access to healthier foods may have promoted healthier diets and, in turn, less coronary plaque formation.” Wing is an assistant professor of public health at Grand Valley State University.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish. It also advises people to eat foods low in saturated and trans-fats and sodium, and to limit their intake of added sugars and red meats.

 

‘Free-From’ Beats GMO, Labeling Changers With A MUCH Clearer Message

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A ‘Free-From’ event exhibitor

While the U.S. struggles with issues related to GMO labeling, gluten- dairy- and wheat-free issues, the U.K. and at least a couple of continental European countries are merrily moving along with a movement called, simply, ‘free-from’. It encompasses all of the above, and might extend to other ‘freedoms’ currently relevant or potentially relevant to food growing and onward up the food chain.

Meanwhile, the U.S. congress passes, and sends to the president for his signature – ordinarily done with a handful of pens as ‘give-aways’ to selected recipients – a bill that, for all intents and purposes, does next to nothing to ensure products offered to the public are free of genetically modified ingredients.

I know, I touched on the GMO issue a couple of days ago. But this is, oddly, a view few American organizations or individual companies have addressed – and it’s one that’s taking off, elsewhere.

What has been said about the about-to-be-signed GMO bill is the fact that, as one observer said, “the devil is in the details,” and speculation is that it will take “years” for those details to be worked out. In other words, no one should have high hope that this bill will move the ball very far soon – maybe not even before the next – hopefully one-term – president is replaced.

(While this blog tends to avoid issues of a political nature, it is worth noting, about now, with one of the two major political parties having its election year convention as we speak, with the other’s conclave due within a couple of weeks, that whichever of the hardly-lesser ‘evils’ is elected is more than likely to have serious impacts on food-related policies.

(Trump has promised to disrupt treaties that affect how, and from where, food enters this country.

(A Clinton campaign pledge has her “increase[ing] funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems; And she’ll create a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times.”

(But campaign statements and promises too often give way to different concepts once a politician [at whatever level] is in office. Time will tell how these two’s promises bear up.

(But you can be sure that, one way or another, either would in one, two or another way, disrupt ‘business’ as usual as its being done in the food trade these days.

 

GMO Bill Heads To White House – Why?

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With both the Senate and the House of Representatives signed off on it, a much-discussed, somewhat controversial bill concerning the labeling of genetically modified foods is on its way to the White House for signing by President Obama.

The bill has been hailed by some in the food industry and soundly decried by others. And an ‘interactive feature’ in The New York Times last week gave consumers pause to consider how much better off, or wiser, they’ll be (or not) with this or any other GMO-oriented legislation.

The July 11 New York Times piece (cited above) pretty much sums up what consumers need to know, right now, or in the foreseeable future, on the GMO issue. (Spoiler: The issue isn’t as big a deal many would have you believe.)

The problem comes with the concept of genetic manipulation of food, and where it happens in the food chain. At first glance, if you were unfortunate enough to see a ‘modern’ bred-for-cooking chicken in the flesh, as it were, your first reaction no doubt would be, ‘nature would never make something that looks, and is, by design, as physically challenged as this poor creature is’. And you’d be right.

fat chickens

An unfortunately large number of the chickens bred these days for eating – so called ‘food chickens – are a far cry, physically, from their ancestors of half a century ago. They’ve been dramatically ‘modified’ by selective breeding – not by having their genes manipulated. The objective has been to satisfy the public’s desire for white, as opposed to dark, chicken meat, and the best white meat – in terms of quantity and solid volume, is found in the breast. So, chickens have been selectively bred to have enormous breasts – to a point, as The Times interactive feature notes, its “legs can barely support.”

An article linked-to at that point in the ‘interactive’ article goes so far as to describe the selective breeding of chickens – “modern chicken genetics” – as “a form of abuse”: Chickens today, the linked-to piece says, “stagger about, sometimes on splayed legs, or mostly just sit down.”

A good share of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically modified so it resistant to the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. This gene modification was necessary because Roundup is designed to travel down through a broad spectrum of plants, killing them all the way down to their root system. So, it can  keep corn fields pretty clear of weeds that grab moisture the corn needs, etc.

Some think the chemical (glyphosate) is toxic, possibly contributing to the development of cancer, in humans. There’s no real evidence to support that.

The point of the corn gene manipulation is to enable the plant to defeat the chemical’s objective, and it works. As or more important, though, is the fact that in the course of traveling down through a plant to its roots, the glyphosate apparently in no modifies the corn in a way that could be harmful to humans.

(Full disclosure: For the better part of a year, in the mid-1970’s, shortly after Roundup was first marketed, I helped promote it by producing, at Monsanto’s expense, ‘user stories’ from farmers, municipal and state roadside maintenance authorities, NASA, the Orange Bowl, cemetery managers, wholesale plant growers, lawn care professionals, and many others from one side of the U.S. to the other. The articles were placed in trade magazine serving specific trades – and they were glad to get them, because Roundup was, and still widely is, considered to be something of a ‘miracle product’ that cuts labor costs by vastly reducing the amount of time it takes to clear away unwanted plants.

(A Monsanto sales rep I traveled with in Texas told me a story of an instance where a woman complained to him that Roundup was “killing my dogs, my chickens and my kids; Notice the priorities, there, he said.” His response: He pulled out a sample size of the product – a couple of ounces – and promptly drank it! “She all but fainted,” he laughed.)

Another issue, also pointed out in The Times’ interactive piece, is the fact that, with GMOs being talked about by some as posing health risks (no proof, so far) et cetera, some manufacturers are sticking ‘GMO free’ and similar labels on products – including ground oats, and water – where GMOs are not an issue!

Sadly, there is no ‘safe source’ of authoritative information on whether or not, ultimately, some GMOs might be found to be less than beneficial, without posing any risk to humans.

Chickens are routinely fed genetically modified grain – modified to help chickens ward off diseases. No one has ever suggested that GMO grain, or the breeding manipulations causing chickens to grown far faster and end up with far great breast weights than nature intended, is causing fried chicken eaters to gain weight or developed clogged arteries. Both have a far more direct relationship to the cooking fat that favorite food is cooked in.

People notoriously try to blame ‘something else’ on such conditions as having high blood pressure (cut your salt intake!) water retention (ditto’) or being too ‘bulky’ (you can see where this is going!).

In the grand scheme of things, as we can see that scheme today, GMOs are the least of the worries of people who consume way too much salt, and sugar (in the form of soft drinks, candy, etc.) and fail to exercise.

For the moment, it would be best to keep the GMO ‘threat’ in perspective: It ain’t one, that anyone’s been able to pin down.

The president can sign the bill, creating a new law, and the food industry can say – or it could, if the language of the bill were clear enough – ‘see, we’re doing what you want! Isn’t that wonderful?’

No, in fact, it isn’t.

I’ve worked (as a writer) on the fringe of the food industry for the better part of forty years. The technological changes in that time – what’s known now that wasn’t even imaged then – is mind boggling. Maybe there’s some reason why, in some instances, genetically modified foods might pose a risk of some sort to people. Maybe there isn’t. But none of what I regularly read about developments in the trade suggest there’s any reason why careful manipulations shouldn’t continue, when risk are clearly evaluated and taken into consideration.

A lot of what Congress does is wheel-spinning, or publicity-oriented. This bill may represent one, the other or both of those. What it doesn’t represent is a viable means of addressing what may, or may not,  be an issue worth getting excited about. Or wasting all the Congressional time and energy this bill has.

While some Congressional bills may require as few as two pages  – the one authorizing President Obama to give gold medals to the Apollo astronauts on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing – many spending bills and some others are notorious for filling 1,000 or more pages.

Multiply than times 500 or so – for 435 members of Congress plus other need-to-see’s. That amounts to 1,000 reams of paper – at 500 pages per ream – per bill. And that’s just the House version.

Every month, I attend meetings of county-level Board of Supervisors in Virginia meetings where the agenda, including multiple pages of explanatory files and charts, etc., is readily available on tablet-sized computers placed conveniently in front of each Supervisor. Small towns, as mine is (at 4,000 or so souls), and right-thinking counties really need to watch their expenditures, and it’s pretty obvious that using even a few reams of paper to duplicate, every month, something stored in an electronic file, is beyond wasteful: It’s an irresponsible use of public money.

Call me stupid, but I have enough faith that those who produce the food we eat, have no interest whatsoever in poisoning us. I can’t imagine any major (or even a minor) food producer introducing GMO ingredients into what they intend to market if they had the least suspicion the GMO aspect could put their customers – members of the shopping and consuming public – at risk.

All else aside, doing so would be illegal under existing law. The about-to-be GMO labeling law is highly unlikely to have any positive effect, but certainly could have some negative ones: Companies charged with mislabeling when the ‘facts’, between the complainant  and the accused, are, well, disputable.

 

What’s ‘Good’ For You? Or ‘Healthy’? It Depends Who You Are/Who You Ask!

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One of several New York Times charts symbolizing the healthy/not healthy issue.

When it comes down to it, Americans don’t have a firm grip on the concept of ‘healthy’ versus ‘not so healthy’ foods. And, sadly, because of conflicting advice from assorted vested interests, most people are far from approaching the level of understanding of why this food, while it may supposedly be ‘good’ for you in ‘this’ way, is far from good for you in another way.

The New York Times devoted a great deal of time and resources to researching this subject and, sadly, came away with head-scratching concerns on top of confusion why the what’s-good-for-you subject is so, well, incomprehensible.

The USDA doesn’t help: It recently came out with a revised standard for nutritional information on packaged food labels and the supposedly-improved ones truly aren’t – leaving consumers, as they have been for years, trying to make sense of terms and quantities they can’t comprehend.

An excellent explanation of why the U.S. has so resisted going totally metric – many domestic industries already employ that system exclusively – is laid out in this Time Magazine article from 2014. Some of the stated reasons may have made a certain amount of sense at one time, but they no longer do – just as, except for its currency, the British have been all-metric since the late 1970’s.

(I happened to leave, after five years there, as the change-over was starting. The thing that amazed me most was how quickly and adeptly lovers of Fahrenheit and other non-metric units switched over.  Yet even today, when I discuss something involving a measurement with a friend there, I have to do an electronic [or old-fashioned, paper-based] conversion to get ‘on the same page’ with them.

Our auto industry is all-metric. So is the military. So is the industry producing wine and ‘hard’ alcoholic beverages : 5ths and quarts disappeared some years ago, replaced by .75 liter (litre) and liter bottles. Beer producers are switching, too, albeit more subtly : Incrementally, they are making the percent-of-a-liter ID larger than the old standard ‘ounce’ measure on their bottles.

But because, except in a limited number of instances, it is impossible to produce a food package of a size that can be converted from ounces to milligrams/milliliters or vice versa in whole numbers, and because manufacturers insist on measuring sizes in quantities only vaguely approximating what people call a serving, comparisons of the value Brand A to Brand B  are, at best, an exercise in futility.

So, regardless of whether Brand A or Brand B is ‘healthier’ or ‘better for you,’ it’s pretty hard to tell from packaging and serving sizes.

The Times report noted that a survey of “hundreds” of nutritionists – members of the American Society for Nutrition – revealed “a surprising diversity of opinion, even among experts.”

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the paper, “Twenty years ago, I think we knew about 10 percent of what we need to know” about nutrition, “and now we know about 40 or 50 percent.”

The Times report is long, detailed and, sadly, will leave many readers none the wiser – or not much the wiser, anyway – after they’ve plowed through the entire thing.

And when reading any such report, one has to keep in mind that it refers to ‘healthy’ and ‘good for you’ foods for ordinarily healthy people. To a concerning extent, though, the findings of such studies are meaningless for ‘special needs’ people like me: I have Stage 4 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), meaning many things that are ordinarily good for healthy people – things such as tomatoes, potatoes, beans and nuts – should seldom if ever pass my lips.

Diabetics have their own dietary issues, of course.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that some 29 million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes. That’s roughly 9.3% of the population.

Another 10% of adults have CKD.

So, right off the bat, close to one-fifth of the American population falls outside the ‘good/not good’ – ‘healthy/unhealthy’ measurements of most nutrition surveys. And that doesn’t count those with special dietary needs because they are way under-, or over-weight.

If you are fortune enough to in the larger group that can choose what you eat based on common measurements like those surveys and ‘experts’ produce, consider yourself fortunate. But keep in mind, it wouldn’t take a lot to push you into one of the ‘endangered’ classes!

FDA Encouraging Sharp Cut in Salt In Packaged, Restaurant Foods

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past week issued “long-awaited proposed guidelines targeting packaged foods and restaurant meals that contain the bulk of American’s daily sodium intake,” a voluntary approach that is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing effort “to push the food industry toward reducing the amount of ingredients such as sugar and some fats in an effort to improve consumer health and reduce medical costs,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The story says that “the FDA wants to cut individual daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams over the next decade from a current average of about 3,400 milligrams. It is targeting 150 categories of food, including soups, deli meats, bakery products, snacks and pizza, and officials said consumers have struggled to reduce their intake because most of it is added before it reaches the table … The voluntary salt targets are to be phased-in. The rules as currently proposed give manufacturers two years to begin cutting sodium levels in products, and up to 10 years to make further cuts. The longer time period is intended to recognize the time it takes to develop new foods products, the FDA said.”
According to the Journal, “The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, estimated that it would take six to 18 months and cost $500,000 to $700,000 to reformulate a product with less salt to meet the guidelines, assuming alternatives were available.”
Meanwhile, in a related story, the Gothamist reports that a New York State appeals court has lifted an injunction that prevented the New York City Board of Health from enforcing a sodium labeling law.
The story says that beginning next Monday (June 6), “any chain restaurant in New York City that operates 15 or more locations in the United States is subject to the law, which requires them to mark dishes that exceed the Board’s recommendation for daily sodium intake with an icon of a salt shaker inside a triangular warning sign.”

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Unfortunately, the food industry has brought the need for such guidelines on itself, by so substantially – and unnecessarily – boosting the sodium content of countless products in the name of either taste-enhancing or improving shelf (and pantry) life.

I happen to be uncommonly sensitive to salt in food. I do nearly all the cooking in my house, and only very rarely do I add any salt to anything. And there are a great many places (including nearly every fast food chain) that I refuse to patronize because of their salt use practices.

Among other things, too much salt in one’s food can contribute to high blood pressure, water retention and, not by chance, weight gain.

In reporting on the new FDA proposed guidelines, The New York Times noted that Americans eat almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend. Regarding its link to high pressure, “a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” The Times quoted the FDA as saying “one in three Americans have high blood pressure; For African-Americans, it is one in two.”

The FDA said Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, well above the 2,300 recommended. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a decrease in sodium intake by as little as 400 milligrams a day could prevent 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes annually.

While there has been some scientific controversy over how much to reduce sodium, scientists at the FDA said the health advantages are beyond dispute.