(BPT) - The U.S Department of Agriculture proposed a complete overhaul of school lunches subsidized by the federal government in 2012. These changes aimed to limit calories, reduce sodium and increase the consumption of vegetables and whole grains. Improved nutrition is a laudable goal, but the realities of science and nutrition may surprise most people. That's because scientific studies show kids are more likely to eat their vegetables if they have adequate salt.
Dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli are among the most nutritious foods. However, they all contain very bitter phytochemicals that affect their taste. A research paper from the University of Pennsylvania examined the response of tasters to varying amounts of salt in a range of foods that were naturally bitter, including vegetables and other foods deemed to be healthy. Reducing the salt intake made these foods less appealing and adversely affected the tasters’ nutrient intake.
In another study conducted at Ohio State University, cooked broccoli was fed to individuals from three different age groups: children, adults and senior citizens. The broccoli florets were prepared with different levels of salt. The results showed that even though participants were unaware as to which sample was which, salt significantly increased broccoli’s palatability.
A University of Vermont study to measure food consumption in schools before and after the salt reduction mandate confirmed what school lunch officials feared: they witnessed most students putting fruits and vegetables into the trash instead of their mouths. The study showed that although students were required to place more fruits and vegetables on their trays, they ate less of each.
When students were involved in setting choices, several new student-approved recipes were added to the menu: barbecue chicken, buffalo chicken wraps, chicken salad wraps and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — all savory comfort foods everyone enjoys. It was a stark reminder you cannot impose bland foods on individuals. And there is a reason for that — our bodies are telling us we need sufficient amounts of the essential nutrient, sodium. Public health policy that is not based on evidence cannot outdo our bodies built-in mechanisms demanding those nutrients.
Without salt, serious consequences arise. Per Dr. Michael Alderman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, until the medical community has adequately studied the effects of population-wide sodium reduction, it is best to exercise caution.
“I’m concerned that experiments in population-wide sodium reduction are making Americans, children and adults, guinea pigs. For instance, my research indicates that cardiac patients put on low-salt diets had a higher rate of cardiac events than cardiac patients on normal sodium diets. We need to proceed carefully here so that we don’t cause harm,” he says.