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Changes in Society: Processed Food

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It might seem strange to suggest that the increase in the use of processed food provides an example of a serious change to our society. However, I think it poses a threat that in the short-term at least, is greater than that of global warming.

On another thread I have pointed out the links between processed food, sugar and childhood obesity.


This week CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) published a report on the problems of salt in processed foods. It claims that in the UK it is causing 120,000 heart attack deaths every year.

All animals need salt (sodium chloride) in their diet. Other animals get the salt from the food they eat. Research into the health of chimpanzees show that they have perfect blood pressure of around 90 over 70. Humans rarely have perfect blood pressure. This is especially a problem as people get older. The problem is that they have too much salt in the body. This leads to water retention. People who consume high levels of salt have as much as a litre and a half of extra fluid sloshing around in the veins. This means there is more blood for the heart to pump, and the blood pressure goes up.

Adults need a maximum of 6g of salt a day. The average adult has 9.5g a day. The problem is not with the salt you put on your food. According to the Food Standards Agency 75% of our salt comes from processed foods. There are large quantities of salt in baked beans, breakfast cereals, pizza, soup, cooking sauces, biscuits, hot chocolate, etc.

For years health groups have pleaded with food manufacturers to cut the salt in processed foods. CASH has argued that by cutting the salt content of processed foods by 15% would prevent 70,000 heart attacks per year, 35,000 of which are fatal.

Why are food manufacturers determined to damage our health in this way? To make larger profits. It is as simple as that. Our politicians, who want some of those profits to end up in their pockets, are willing to go along with this conspiracy.

Salt binds in water and therefore provides a cheap way to add texture or bulk. The second reason is that salt makes you thirsty. Multinational companies producing processed foods are also involved in selling soft drinks. These high-sugar drinks are the primarily cause of childhood obesity. More than two-thirds of children have a packet of crisps in their lunchbox every day. More than three-quarters contained sugary drinks. What a perfect combination for the food and drink industry? What a terrible combination for the health of our children.

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Have you ever tried shopping for foods that don't contain excess salt and sugar. You'll find it in everything from tinned tomatoes to cereal, from tinned sweetcorn to margerine. I spend hours in the supermarket identifying the foods that don't contain salt (Ok, so I can buy my tomatoes and corn fresh but I still want my cereal) and have come up with a list of products that it is safe for me to buy. As I said, this took me hours and the average family does not have hours to spend on their shopping. Wouldn't it be nice if the supermarkets put stickers underneath all of the products that don't have extra salt and sugar added:-)

Manufacturers cannot possibly argue that its necessary to add salt to tomatoes when another manufacturer doesn't bother.

Cereal is the most difficult purchase of all. I found that All Bran is the only cereal that doesn't have salt added, which is fine if you like All Bran! Even bland foods like cornflakes and special K and packed with additional extras that we don't need...and most surprisingly of all if you chose to buy your cereal from the health food section it may well be organic but that doens't mean its low in salt.

Then of course we have the 'low fat' options. Better for you, you would assume, but either full of extra sugar, or corn starch (highly processed carbohydrate). Next time you are out shopping read the ingredients in the low fat Mayonaise and Yoghurt and you'll never buy low fat again.

The solution? Stick to the ailes around the outside of the supermarket and only venture into the middle when purchasing toilet paper and aluminium foil. EVERYTHING in the middle is processed...and of course easy and quick to prepare. However, what so many people these days don't realise is that it takes as long to heat up a microwave meal as it does to pan fry or microwave a piece of salmon or trout, and often the fresher option is cheaper. Sadly most people don't know how to bake a potato let alone cook salmon, and that is where schools can make a difference. Its time Home Economics (or whatever its called today) got 'right on'.).


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