Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Consumers killing themselves with salt Wrong lesson for food firms

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If your company makes soup, what's the best way to shoot yourself in the foot? Try selling soup with a little less salt. In 2009 Campbell Soup made a brave and healthy decision. Each serving of its soup would have 32 per cent less sodium to help tame one of North America's big killers: hypertension. Now foolish consumers have forced Campbell's soup in the United States to put sodium back in again.

Fortunately, this decision at the moment does not affect Campbell's soup in Canada. Moreover, there are also other products here that are helping to combat these common diseases. For instance, Loblaw's President's Choice Blue Menu line of products contains both decreased salt and calories. Blue Menu soup has only 400 milligrams of salt compared to 800 or more milligrams in other soups.

But Campbell's low salt soup and these other products will not remain on Canadian shelves unless consumers get smart and start buying health rather than salt.

For years the medical profession has lambasted food manufacturers for loading our food with salt, thus stoking the epidemic of cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure is the leading cause of death in the world. It's a silent killer. We're unable to feel its presence.

Stephen Havas, professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland, claims, "The number of deaths from excess salt is equivalent to a commuter jet crashing every day in the U.S."

Sir William Osler, professor of medicine at McGill, Johns Hopkins and Oxford universities, said you were lucky if you were born with what he called "good rubber." Namely, it's good if you inherit arteries of good quality that do not become hardened with the passage of time.

Hard, inflexible arteries make it harder for the heart to pump blood to all parts of the body. This is why heart failure is now one of the leading causes of death in this country. Like a tired horse, the overworked heart finally gives up.

The constant pounding of too much pressure on organs, such as the kidneys, often results in organ failure, but the first symptom may be death from a massive stroke when an artery, like a tire that has too much pressure, ruptures.

None of us can choose our parents, but we can choose our lifestyle to decrease the risk of hypertension. One way was to choose Campbell's low sodium soup. Denise Morrison, president of Campbell's North American Soup, called the company "the poster child of wellness" in 2009 when Campbell's decreased the salt content in U.S. soup.

Now due to the salt preference of U.S. customers, Campbell's "poster child" has suffered a premature demise. This is a huge tragedy. It was an opportunity to send an important message to the entire food industry.

I can only speculate what Campbell's president is thinking, but I'd bet she's saying, "For years doctors and other health officials have urged us to lower the salt content of soup. So we took a product that had been a success for 112 years, was producing a profit, loved by millions, and decreased the salt content by 32 per cent, removing 46 million teaspoons of salt from our soup. But we were deceived. The public does not want lower salt products. Now we've lost money, our shareholders are angry and we'll never make that mistake again. If you want salt, we'll give it you." Who can blame them?

There's a greater tragedy. Don't think this error hasn't been noticed by other food companies. They've seen Campbell's U.S. profits slump while their company didn't get caught in this great salt experiment. I believe hell will freeze over before they'll change a profitable product loaded with salt. Economics, rather than good health, will rule the day.

Today, we live in an era when consumers refuse to suffer one iota to achieve good health. It's not just excess salt. It's a combination of too much salt, sugar and calories of all kinds that has triggered the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and degenerative disease.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2011 A23

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