School menus ditch the salt

Cayman Islands HSA community dietician and nutritionist Bethany Smith prepared new food provisions that were introduced to the Cayman Islands public schools for the 2010-11 school year.

The measure was introduced by the Child Health Task Force in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Health to teach young people how to adopt and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

This year’s school menus include balanced meals containing good sources of protein and starch, accompanied by lots of vegetables and fruits, healthier drinks, and specific restrictions on fatty meat products.

Salt and condiments

Another goal of the Standards for Food Provision is to avoid excess intakes of sodium, which is associated with high blood pressure.

Like several of the other school food standards, prevention of heart disease and stroke are expected long-term outcomes of this strategy.

Public health guidelines call for sodium intakes between 1,500 and 2,300mg per day for the population to be healthy, with smaller children and adults with high blood pressure requiring the lower end of the range.

People of African descent, middle-age and older adults are also considered to be a high risk group, and the lower intakes of sodium are also recommended.

Recently, the American Heart Association has taken a more conservative stance with the recommendation 1,500 mg sodium per day as the general guide for everyone.

Overweight people are at increased risk for high blood pressure too.

In children, studies over time have shown strong relationships between increased excess body weight and increased blood pressure and cholesterol, according to the AHA.

Children at risk

“The good news is that preference for salt is adaptable, and over time one’s tastes do not require as much salt to be satisfied,” Ms Smith said.

In a recent analysis of 20 years of data from school health screenings in Cayman Islands, not only did overweight and obesity more than double, but average blood pressure increased significantly as well (Vanhanswijck, 2007).

Other studies have found that having high blood pressure puts a child at a higher risk for damaged blood vessels, stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, and loss of vision later in life.

Considering that one teaspoon is equivalent to 2,300mg sodium, it is not hard to exceed the recommended intakes for the day.

This is especially true with our current eating habits, which include eating out more often and consuming more processed, convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, box mixes, and canned items.

Fast foods and most restaurant meals also contribute a hefty amount to our daily sodium allotment.

The school food standards stipulate that no additional salt shall be available to add to food after the cooking process is complete. The food preparation will have incorporated salt already and should be adequate.

In addition, condiments, which are high in sodium content, may only be provided in individual portions of no more than 10 grams or the smallest size available.

Condiments include tomato ketchup, brown sauce, salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and relishes.

Good practice for canteen operators is to serve condiments only on request, including gravies and other sauces.

They are also encouraged to reduce the amount of salt used in cooking and add herbs and spices to dishes to cut down on the need for extra salt and condiments.

Working with suppliers to obtain lower sodium products is also encouraged.

“Canteens also have more opportunity to be creative in their recipes and food preparation, which can be an advantage for everyone,” Ms Smith said.