Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Grain of Salt

Wal-Mart is announcing today that over the next five years it will reduce sodium and transfat in foods it sells as well as lower prices for healthier foods and open more stores in low income areas.

I take it all with a grain of salt. These are at best baby steps, and five years is a long time.

The New York Times article correctly points out that reducing sodium is the biggest challenge because it alters taste. I can personally attest to that. Over the last year, we have significantly reduced our salt intake. For example, I now buy low salt crackers and unsalted peanuts. At first, they seemed tasteless. But over time, I found that one's taste buds adjust and you start to actually taste what you are eating. The wheat flavor of the crackers and the natural taste of peanuts were a revelation. If I eat a regular cracker now, all I taste is salt.

Which is why Big Food uses mountains of the stuff. Dump in enough sodium and asphalt will taste good.

I'm glad Wal-Mart has agreed to make its food healthier, but we are still just eating at the corners of the problem. The best way to reduce sodium and transfat is to cook at home so you control what goes into what you eat. It's also cheaper. I'm skeptical whether Con-Agra or Wal-Mart's business models, which depend on selling value-added, highly processed food, can be part of that solution.

But Rome wasn't built in a day. As incremental as this is, it's still a step forward. Let's hope this is only the start.

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