Friday, January 2, 2009

The Salty Truth

The Globe and Mail gives us a report of this year's nutritional winners and losers. I was interested by the section on nutritional information in Canadian fast-food chains, particularly the statement that a Kelsey's fajita dinner contains 4,550 milligrams of sodium. Given my interest in salt, as well as a family connection to the Kelsey's franchise, I was intrigued by this number. I realized, specifically, that I had no idea it means. So, I did some digging.

According to Health Canada, the average adult requires 1,500 mg of sodium per day for basic functioning and recommends daily consumption of no greater than 2,300 mg. They also stress that Canadians on average consume twice the sodium they require for good health.

But, how much sodium is in salt? My first guess was to translate the Kelsey's figure 1:1, which sits at just shy of a teaspoon of salt. That seems excessive by my taste, but I'm a salt lightweight, so I figured the average taste buds would want more.

Then I learned the actual conversion. Every teaspoon (6 g) of table salt contains 2,400 mg of sodium. That means that the Kelsey's dish contains almost TWO teaspoons of salt. By comparison, I would use that amount of salt for a huge pot of soup, enough to feed 8-10 people. That's a lot of salt!

The Health Canada link above gives lots of tips on how to avoid excess salt intake, such as ordering salad dressings on the side in restaurants and consuming more fresh, unprocessed foods. Of course, if you cook your own food from these fresh ingredients, you'll only add salt to your taste, which in my very un-scientific opinion is the true measure of how much you really need.