Salt in popular restaurant meals twice the amount a child should have in a day

New research published on 2 February 2009 by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that many popular meals eaten in UK high-street restaurants can contain large amounts of salt, in some cases more than twice the daily maximum limit for an adult in a single meal.

CASH worked with Trading Standards officers around the country to measure the salt content of 96 popular menu items from 16 high street restaurant chains.  Samples were purchased from the restaurants and analysed for their salt content by the Public Analyst.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the main course dishes contained 3g of salt or more, the maximum daily limit for a six year-old and half the adult daily limit, and seven of these contained 6g of salt or more, the maximum daily limit for an adult.  The saltiest dishes were not confined to one or two restaurants – six out of the sixteen (over one third, 38%) restaurants surveyed served a popular main course dish containing 6g of salt or more.

The saltiest main course surveyed was Old Orleans Chicken Fajitas, with 8.8g of salt per serving.  Old Orleans also serves Wings and Ribs with 7.6g of salt per portion.  A Pizza Express American Hot Pizza contains 7.5g of salt per portion and a Wagamama Ramen contains 7.2g of salt per serving.  By comparison, a popular main meal at Beefeater of Sirloin Steak, grilled tomato, flat mushroom and chips contains only 0.4g of salt.

American Hot Pizza

American Hot Pizza

Starters and side dishes were also surveyed, with Old Orleans Chicken Wings with spicy BBQ sauce and blue cheese dressing containing almost 5g of salt per portion. Strada Aglio Garlic Bread contains 3.3g of salt per portion, over half the adult recommended daily limit.

Restaurant

Dish

Salt per Portion (g)

Old Orleans

Chicken Fajitas

8.84

Old Orleans

Wings and Ribs (with fries)

7.59

Pizza Express

American Hot Classic Pizza

7.5

Wagamamas

Wagamama ramen

7.2

Zizzi

Pizza Sofia

6.7

ASK

Fiesta Di Carne Pizza

6.55

Frankie and Benny’s

Chicken Penne Romana

6.0

 

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s Hospital in London said:

“Keeping our salt consumption below the recommended maximum levels is vital.  If we are to reduce the numbers of people needlessly dying from heart attacks and strokes, then we all need to keep a check on our salt intake.  The food industry in this country is leading the world in reducing the amount of salt it adds to the foods we buy in shops and supermarkets, and labelling those foods clearly so that we can make informed decisions about the products we buy.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for foods we eat in restaurants.  It simply beggars belief that almost five years after the Food Standards Agency launched its salt reduction programme, and with all the publicity there has been about the 6g a day target, some high street restaurants have done nothing to reduce the amount of salt they add to their meals.  If they had even considered this issue then we wouldn’t be finding meals containing more than a day’s salt limit in a single course.  By comparison, ready meals sold in supermarkets have had their salt content reduced considerably over the last few years, and when we last surveyed them, we found only a very few with salt contents over 3g salt per serving.”

Raymond Blanc, Chef Patron of the Manoir Au Quat’ Saisons said,

“I believe that good food does not need more than the very lightest of seasoning – there is no reason for good chefs to mask the flavour of their ingredients by adding too much salt. Remember herby, sour, bitter and acid are also wonderful catalysts of flavour.”

For information about a two-day course in Somerset, UK, tailored to equip caterers, and those involved in encouraging healthier catering practices, with information and practical tools to achieve healthier eating in the population, please click here.

Turmeric – spice up your health

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.  It is native to tropical South Asia and needs temperatures between 20°C and 30°C, and a considerable amount of rainfall to survive.

Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes.  The rhizomes are boiled for several hours and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used in spices and curries, for dyeing, and to impart colour to mustard condiments and butter.  Its active ingredient is curcumin, which has an earthy, bitter, peppery flavour and a mustardy smell.

turmeric

Turmeric has been used for at least 4000 years in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of ailments.

There are frequent media reports claiming medicinal properties of turmeric, some of which are supported by quality scientific data and some of which are not.

It is important to bear in mind that many studies have been done in test tubes and animals, and the herb may work differently or not as well in humans.

Furthermore, some studies have used an injectable form of curcumin, and the results may not relate well to the effects of oral ingestion of turmeric itself.

In spite of these caveats, there is promising evidence that turmeric may be helpful for fighting infections and some cancers, reducing inflammation, and treating digestive problems.

turmeric spice

The curcumin in turmeric has been shown to stimulate the production of bile by the gallbladder.

Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant.  Antioxidants protect the body from the adverse effects of very reactive molecules called free radicals, which damage cell membranes and DNA, and may even cause cell death.

In addition, curcumin reduces inflammation by lowering levels of two inflammatory enzymes (called COX-2 and LOX) in the body and stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.  COX-2 is the target enzyme of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, so curcumin works in a similar way to these drugs, without the side-effects.

Indigestion

At least one double-blind placebo-controlled study has shown that turmeric was effective for treating people with indigestion, reducing symptoms of bloating and gas.  In Germany, turmeric has been approved for use in treating digestive disorders.

Ulcerative colitis

In one double-blind placebo-controlled study, people whose ulcerative colitis was in remission either received curcumin or placebo, along with conventional medical treatment for 6 months.  Those who took curcumin had a relapse rate that was much lower than those who took the placebo.

Stomach ulcers

Turmeric does not appear to be helpful in treating stomach ulcers, and there is some evidence that it may increase the amount of acid in the stomach, making existing ulcers worse.

Osteoarthritis

Turmeric may be useful for relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis due to its ability to reduce inflammation.  A study of people using an Ayurvedic formula of herbs and minerals containing turmeric as well as Withinia somnifera (winter cherry), Boswellia serrata  and zinc significantly reduced pain and disability.  Due to the study design, it is not possible to know if this effect is from turmeric alone, or the combination of herbs working together.

Atherosclerosis

In animal studies, an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and kept LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol from building up in blood vessels, a process that can result in blocked arteries leading to heart attack or stroke.  Turmeric also stops platelets from clumping together, so may help to prevent build-up of  blood clots along the artery walls.  These findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials.

Cancer

There is substantial interest in turmeric’s potential anti-cancer properties.  Evidence from test tube and animal studies suggests that curcumin may help prevent, control or kill several types of cancer cells, including prostate, breast, skin and colon.  Curcumin’s effects may be due to its ability to stop the blood vessels that supply cancerous tumours from growing, and from its effects as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage.  More research is needed in order to understand if turmeric is effective in preventing or treating cancer in humans.

Diabetes

When laboratory animals with diabetes were given turmeric, their blood sugar levels dropped, as did their cholesterol levels.  Researchers do not yet know if such effects will occur in human subjects with diabetes.

Bacterial and viral infections

Anti-microbial properties of turmeric have been observed in laboratory studies but there is little data available on similar effects in humans.

Uveitis

In one study of 32 people with uveitis, inflammation of the eye, curcumin appeared to be as effective as corticosteroids.

If a teaspoon of turmeric is added to the cooking water of brown rice, the rice becomes a bright yellow colour.  This yellow-coloured rice can then be used in dishes such as paella, kedgeree and rice salad, together with multi-coloured vegetables, such as red pepper, sauteed courgettes, diced carrots, peas and sweetcorn.  Children love the bright colours and this is a good way to tempt them to eat more nourishing whole grains and vegetables.

For recipe ideas, tips and information about following a plant-based diet please sign up for my free newsletter and check out my website.

You can also find me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Jane Philpott

References

Ammon HPT, Wahl MA. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Medica. 1991;57:1-7.

Arbiser JL, Klauber N, Rohan R, et al. Curcumin is an in vivo inhibitor of angiogenesis. Mol Med. 1998;4(6):376-383.

Asai A, Miyazawa T. Dietary curcuminoids prevent high-fat diet-induced lipid accumulation in rat liver and epididymal adipose tissue. J Nutr. 2001;131(11):2932-2935.

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:379-384.

Curcuma longa (turmeric). Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6 Suppl:S62-S66.

Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, Zielinski MR, Groschwitz CM, Brown AS, Ghaffar A, Mayer EP. Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Mar 1 [Epub ahead of print]

Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R, Katz AE. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo. Prostate. 2001;47(4):293-303.

Dorai T, Gehani N, Katz A. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. II. Curcumin inhibits tyrosine kinase activity of epidermal growth factor receptor and depletes the protein. Mol Urol. 2000;4(1):1-6.

Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Kuscuoglu N, Wilson J, McCaffrey G, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Nov;54(11):3452-64.

Gescher A J, Sharma R A, Steward W P. Cancer chemoprevention by dietary constituents: a tale of failure and promise. Lancet Oncol. 2001;2(6):371-379.

Hanai H, Iida T, Takeuchi K, Watanabe F, Maruyama Y, Andoh A, et al. Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 Dec;4(12):1502-6.

Handler N, Jaeger W, Puschacher H, Leisser K, Erker T. Synthesis of novel curcumin analogues and their evaluation as selective cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) inhibitors. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2007 Jan;55(1):64-71.

Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL. Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2000;57(13):1221-1227.

Johnson JJ, Mukhtar H. Curcumin for chemoprevention of colon cancer. Cancer Lett. 2007 Apr 18; [Epub ahead of print]

Kawamori T, Lubet R, Steele VE, et al. Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer. Cancer Res. 1999;59:597-601.

Kim MS, Kang HJ, Moon A. Inhibition of invasion and induction of apoptosis by curcumin in H-ras-transformed MCF10A human breast epithelial cells. Arch Pharm Res. 2001;24(4):349-354.

Lal B, Kapoor AK, Asthana OP, et al. Efficacy of curcumin in the management of chronic anterior uveitis. Phytother Res. 1999;13(4):318-322.

Luper S. A review of plants used in the treatment of liver disease: part two. Altern Med Rev. 1999;4(3):178-188; 692.

Mehta K, Pantazis P, McQueen T, Aggarwal BB. Antiproliferative effect of curcumin (diferuloylmethane) against human breast tumor cell lines. Anticancer Drugs. 1997;8(5):470-481.

Nagabhushan M, Bhide SV. Curcumin as an inhibitor of cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 1992;11(2):192-198.

Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, Chan SY. Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. J Trauma 2001;51(5):927-931.

Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 1999:689-692.

Ramirez-Tortosa MC, Mesa MD, Aguilera MC, et al. Oral administration of a turmeric extract inhibits LDL oxidation and has hypocholesterolemic effects in rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis. 1999;147(2):371-378.

Sharma RA, Ireson CR, Verschoyle RD. Effects of dietary curcumin on glutathione S-Transferase and Malondialdehyde-DNA adducts in rat liver and colon mucosa: relationship with drug levels. Clin Cancer Res. 2001;7:1452-1458.

Stoner GD, Mukhtar H. Polyphenols as cancer chemopreventive agents. J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1995;22:169-180.

Su CC, Lin JG, Li TM, Chung JG, Yang JS, Ip SW, et al. Curcumin-induced apoptosis of human colon cancer colo 205 cells through the production of ROS, Ca2+ and the activation of caspase-3. Anticancer Res. 2006 Nov-Dec;26(6B):4379-89.

Verma SP, Salamone E, Goldin B. Curcumin and genistein, plant natural products, show synergistic inhibitory effects on the growth of human breast cancer MCF-7 cells induced by estrogenic pesticides. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1997; 233(3): 692-696.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998:41.

Soybean product may be of benefit in preventing Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists in Taiwan have published a paper in the February 2009 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicating that an enzyme, nattokinase, which is found in a fermented soybean product called natto, has powerful ability in lab experiments to prevent formation of the clumps of tangled protein (amyloid fibrils) observed in Alzheimer’s disease.

More than 20 unrelated proteins can form amyloid fibrils in the body, which are related to various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, prion disease, and systematic amyloidosis.  Enhancing amyloid clearance is one of the targets of the therapy of these amyloid-related diseases. Although there is debate on whether the toxicity is due to amyloids or their precursors, research on the degradation of amyloids may shed light on the prevention or alleviation of these diseases.

In this Taiwanese study, nattokinase degraded several kinds of amyloid fibrils suggesting its possible use in the treatment of amyloid-related diseases.

natto

Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans and is a popular breakfast dish.  For some, natto is an acquired taste due to its powerful smell, strong flavour and sticky consistency.

Natto is made from soybeans, typically a special type called natto soybeans.  Smaller beans are preferred as the fermentation can progress to the centre of the bean more easily.  The beans are washed and soaked in water for 12 to 20 hours, which causes the beans to swell.  Next, the soybeans are steamed for 6 hours, although a pressure cooker can be used to reduce the time.  The beans are then mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis natto, known as natto-kin in Japanese.  From this point on, care has to be taken to keep the ingredients away from impurities and other bacteria.  The mixture is fermented at 40°C for up to 24 hours.  Afterwards the natto is cooled, then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week to add stringiness.  During the ageing process at a temperature of about 0°C, the bacteria develop spores, and enzymes break down the soybean protein into its constituent amino acids.  For this reason, the high protein content of the soybean is in a very digestible form. 

In addition to its high protein content, natto is rich in fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.  In common with other soybean products, natto contains significant quantities of the isoflavone phytonutrients including genistein and daidzein, which are believed to have cancer-protective properties.

Natto is believed to have numerous health benefits and there is some medical research to support this.  The enzyme nattokinase is a serine protease which may reduce blood clotting by direct fibrinolysis of clots and inhibition of the plasma protein plasminogen activator inhibitor 1[i].  Clinical trials are needed to confirm laboratory studies.  An extract from natto containing nattokinase is available as a dietary supplement.

Vitamin K, which is present in significant amounts in natto, is involved in the formation of calcium-binding groups in proteins, assisting the formation of bones and preventing osteoporosis.  Vitamin K1 is found naturally in seaweed, liver and some vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in fermented food products such as cheese and miso.  Natto has very large amounts of vitamin K2, approximately 870 mg per 100 g natto.

Natto is reported to contain substantial levels of a natural product called pyrroloquinoline quinone, which has been shown to stimulate DNA synthesis in cultured human fibroblasts, modulate immune response, and reduce liver injury, cataract formation and lipid peroxidation[ii].   

 A study reported in 1996 suggested that natto may have benefits in reducing cholesterol levels in people whose cholesterol and triglyceride levels are high[iii].

In January 1997, a Japanese television programme called Revealed! Encyclopaedia of Living recommended two portions of natto per day as a means of losing weight in only two weeks.  With the Japanese struggling with overweight and obesity this hit a nerve, and by lunchtime the next day national stocks of natto had sold out.    Whilst it is the case that natto has a relatively low number of calories per g of protein and a high nutrient density, it will only contribute to weight loss if consumed as part of a healthy diet, high in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and unsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats, salt and sugar, combined with plenty of exercise.

The most popular way to eat natto is to put it in a small bowl, add a little soy sauce and some finely-chopped spring onion and/or some mustard, mix the ingredients together and serve on some steamed rice.  Natto can also be added to miso soup to create a rich and nourishing dish, which smells a little like capuccino.

Natto can be purchased in the UK from specialist suppliers of Japanese food, such as the Japan Centre  and Japanese Kitchen.

Learn how to cook with natto and other soybean products such tempeh and tofu at popular Cooking for Health classes  held throughout the year in Somerset, UK .

Jane Philpott

 

References

[i]  Fujita M et al (December 1993). “Purification and characterization of a strong fibrinolytic enzyme (nattokinase) in the vegetable cheese natto, a popular soybean fermented food in Japan”. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 197 (3): 1340–1347.

[ii] Kumazawa, T.  et al. Levels of pyrroloquinoline quinone in various foods.  Biochem J. (1995) 307: 331-333

[iii] National Cardiovascular Center, Osake, Japan (April 2006). “Examining the effects of natto consumption on lifestyle-related disease prevention

Obesity begins at home

Researchers at the University of California have found that adolescents are more likely to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day if their parents do.  In contrast, teenagers whose parents consume fast food and fizzy drinks are more likely to do the same.

boy_with_vegetables

A survey of thousands of teenagers revealed that:

  • Teens whose parents drink soft fizzy drinks every day are nearly 40 percent more likely to drink fizzy drinks themselves than teens whose parents do not drink fizzy drinks
  • Teens whose parents eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily are 16 percent more likely to do the same than teens whose parents who do not eat five servings a day
  • Nearly half of adolescents (48 percent) whose parents drink fizzy drinks every day eat fast food at least once a day, while only 39 percent of teens whose parents who do not drink fizzy drinks eat fast food once daily
  • 45 percent of teens whose parents do not eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily eat fast food at least once a day, while only 39 percent of teens whose parents eat five servings a day eat fast food at least once daily

“The research shows us that one of the keys to solving the teen obesity crisis starts with parents, but we must also improve the abysmal food environments in many low-income communities,” said Dr Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive officer of the California endowment.  “While parents are the primary role models for their children and their behaviour can positively – or negatively – influence their children’s health, it is also essential that local officials representing low-income communities work to expand access to fruit, vegetables and other healthful foods”.

Educating parents about healthy food choices, as well as how to plan and prepare healthier meals, would help in rducing teenage obesity, according to the authors of the policy brief. 

They also recommend employment policies that promote a better work-life balance.  Given more flexible working hours, more families might have time to prepare food at home and engage more often in family meals – an activity that has been linked to healthier lifestyles.

For more information on courses available on choosing and preparing healthy food for your children see Healthy Cooking for Your Children.

Jane Philpott, Cooking for Health