Less salt. Less sugar.And easy on the Nanny State

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Asip of soup can be sub­lime or so salty that you’re tempted to spit it out. A bran muf­fin can be de­li­cious or so sugar-drenched you lunge for a bit­ter cof­fee to wash it down. The real test when foods dis­ap­point is: What do you do? Com­plain po­litely to a restau­rant man­ager? Call the con­sumer hot­line for a man­u­fac­turer of pack­aged foods to, again, po­litely sug­gest there’s too much sugar-salt-fat in a prod­uct?

Maybe. But do restau­rants and food mak­ers lis­ten? Yes, ac­cord­ing to a just-re­leased sur­vey from in­dus­try group The Con­sumer Goods Fo­rum. It’s good news for, and about, con­sumers: Ma­jor food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies world­wide re­port that they re­for­mu­lated more than 180,000 prod­ucts in 2016, cut­ting sugar and salt most of­ten. Those com­pa­nies also say they’ve added more whole grains and vi­ta­mins to prod­ucts.

That’s great for con­sumer health. There’s a de­bate about how much sugar and salt in your diet is too much, but many health ex­perts — and or­di­nary din­ers and shop­pers — be­lieve that food sci­en­tists and am­bi­tious mar­keters have tucked too much of both in our food.

But com­pa­nies don’t re­for­mu­late solely be­cause they’re con­cerned about cus­tomers’ health. They do so be­cause cus­tomers de­mand it. Peo­ple read nu­tri­tion la­bels. They make choices based on di­etary ad­vice they’ve heard or read. Think it’s a co­in­ci­dence that sales of sug­ary so­das — that trough of yummy but empty calo­ries await­ing de­posit on bel­lies or hips — have dropped for years? Nope. Many con­sumers have turned to drinks they deem health­ier, mainly juices and fla­vored wa­ters.

“The big con­sumer com­pa­nies are re­spond­ing to com­pet­i­tive pres­sures,” Peter Freed­man, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of The Con­sumer Goods Fo­rum, told Bloomberg News. “The growth in the in­dus­try is com­ing from small star­tups with prod­uct port­fo­lios that have a health­ier an­gle.”

The Con­sumer Goods Fo­rum sur­vey doesn’t say how much salt and sugar was cut from prod­ucts, but com­pa­nies are get­ting the mes­sage. Note that this hap­pens even with­out heavy-handed Nanny State tac­tics such as the failed bid by for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban over­size so­das. Nor is this change driven mostly by Mega Nanny State tac­tics such as those of France, which re­cently de­creed that restau­rants can­not of­fer free re­fills of so­das and other sugar-laden drinks. France also banned vend­ing ma­chines from schools, lim­ited serv­ings of french fries in school cafe­te­rias to once a week and im­posed a soda tax. What’s next? A weigh-in be­fore you can or­der at a Paris McDon­ald’s?

Gov­ern­ment didn’t force all these com­pa­nies to re­for­mu­late. The com­pa­nies did that to at­tract or keep con­sumers.

We’re not fans of gov­ern­ment dik­tats on what Amer­i­cans should and shouldn’t be al­lowed to eat. But we are fans of clear, ac­cu­rate, su­per­sized di­etary in­for­ma­tion on pack­aged foods and in restau­rants.

This type of gov­ern­ment-backed info helps Amer­i­cans de­cide if they want to risk high blood pres­sure or other dis­eases via ex­ces­sive salt in­take. Or if they want to risk di­a­betes, obe­sity and so many other health con­se­quences that come with pil­ing on the sugar and un­nec­es­sary pounds.

Sounds good to us. But food isn’t only about calo­ries. Sugar and salt taste good. There’s lit­tle virtue in gag­ging down lowor non­fat prod­ucts to save a few calo­ries. What’s more, re­searchers of­ten change their minds about what’s healthy.

Here’s the best di­etary ad­vice that won’t ever be re­vised, con­tra­dicted or proven false: Deprivation doesn’t work. Nor does glut­tony. In­stead, in­dulge in mod­er­a­tion — por­tion con­trol — when it comes to high-calo­rie, high-fat, high-sugar, highly craved del­i­ca­cies.

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