Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Waging War against Sodium: Chicken & Stars

Once upon a time, salt was a precious and rare commodity. It was so valuable that skilled workers were sometimes paid in salt, thus making them 'worth their salt.'

NOW, however, salt is so plentiful that we are practically swimming in it. As I have mentioned before, too much salt makes people in my family feel AWFUL, so I am constantly on the lookout for it. This vigilance is now translating to my choice of foods for my 1-year old son. If I was the perfect Mom, I suppose I'd make all his food from scratch. But as I work part time, I need to buy some of it.

As he is transitioning to 'real' foods now, I am starting to study the labels more, and I am HORRIFIED at the amount of salt.

DRI (Daily Recommended Intake) Charts show Adequate Intakes (AIs) at approximately 370 mg for a 6-12 month old and then they jump to 1000 mg for 1-3 year old. Note: These numbers vary based on the reference you are using. The Dietary Reference Intake Chart of the USDA seems like one of the best references [For those of you saying 'Hey, what happened to RDA?', this new DRI reference apparently replaced the plain old RDAs in the late 1990s.]

So, armed with this data, I headed to the grocery store in search of Chicken and Pasta Stars. I found 3 items to try:
Here is how they compare:
Beech Nut Gerber Campbells

Serving Size 6 oz 6 oz 4 oz
Salt per Serving 160 mg (27 mg/oz) 400 mg (67 mg/oz) 480 mg (120 mg/oz)
Cost per Serving $1.33 $1.29 $.40
Taste Tasty Tasty Watery, Salty

I gave up on Campbells a long time ago; they just have too much salt for my genes. That leaves Beech Nut and Gerber for me to write to.

I won't bore you with my correspondence to Beech Nut. I told them how fabulous they were, and thanked them for so little salt, and they wrote back that they were very pleased to hear this and wouldn't I like some coupons? Sure, awesome.

My email to Gerber was not as kind:

I am starting to look past Stage 3 foods as my baby is just turning 12 months tomorrow. I have begun to read the nutrition labels on your Graduates line of products and I am HORRIFIED at the sodium content. What are you thinking? The current USDA Dietary Reference Intake Charts put the intake of sodium for a 12-month old at approximately 400-600 mg PER DAY, but your product has that much in just one serving! So unless all he eats the rest of the day is water and raw fruits/vegetables, he is going to get too much salt. Why are you putting so much sodium into your products? I just compared your product with the new Beech Nut Let's Grow line and their nutritional content is much better in this respect.
Here is their response:

Our 3rd Foods™ and Graduates® lines are designed for children approaching one year of age or older. At this point, most children are being exposed to table foods which contain more seasoning. The amount of salt added is very carefully controlled so that the level of sodium in these products is considerably less than comparable adult products. These items are intended to bridge the transition period between a diet of baby foods and foods solely from the family table. Although the sodium content may appear high at first glance, it is important to remember this includes both added salt and the naturally occurring sodium in the ingredients.

Here is what I don't understand; I poured over the Gerber and Beech Nut labels. They have the same ingredients, they both are tasty, and they have similar shelf-lives. So why does Gerber have over double the salt? I don't understand it at all. You've lost me, Gerber, you've lost me.

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