The expression “the bread of life” underscores the foundational aspect of bread as a food staple, a basic part of any diet. You sometimes hear about people who can easily survive on only bread and water. But dig deeper into the nutritional details about bread and you will find significant differences between one bread product and another.
A study published on November 21st, 2017, by the Public Health Nutrition Journal reveals a significant difference in the sodium levels of packaged bread products sold in the United States versus those sold in the United Kingdom. U.S. bread products contain, on average, 12% more sodium than similar products sold in the U.K. This variation in sodium content between countries shows that it’s possible for bread products sold in the U.S. to have lower sodium levels than they do now.
The Threat of Too Much Sodium
There is a well-established link between excess sodium intake in the diet and hypertension, a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The 12% higher sodium levels cited in U.S. bread products over U.K. products is “a statistically significant difference,” according to the Public Health Nutrition Journal.
The study is based on data provided by Label Insight, which identifies detailed nutritional information about food products and shares it with CPG companies, retailers, nutrition researchers and government regulatory agencies. The nutritional information about U.K. bread products was made available through a smartphone application called FoodSwitch, and was also based on its analysis of Label Insight data.
The Open Data Initiative
Access to the Label Insight database is provided at no charge to academic researchers through the company’s Open Data Initiative. The Initiative shares with researchers nutritional information and analytical tools encompassing over 400,000 products that are available for purchase in the U.S.
The purpose is to open up the data for the advancement of research, learning, and change, to the people who can use the data to make a significant impact.
Besides the recently released Public Health Nutrition Journal report, another upcoming nutrition study is based on collaboration between Northwestern University and the American Heart Association.
The thousands of data points made available from the Initiative are separated and available interchangeably so researchers can analyze the data as they see fit. They can publish findings and studies based on their database with no restrictions. And they regularly receive updates when new data is published.
Entities benefiting from the Open Data Initiative include Duke University, Providence Health and Services, the University of Virginia, and others.
U.S. Catching up to U.K. on Nutrition
Bread products sold in the U.K. are considered more nutritious than higher-sodium products from America due in part to more proactive U.K. nutrition standards.
The U.K. Department of Health has been pushing an initiative to lower sodium levels in bread products for some time. According to the Public Health Nutrition Journal study, sodium levels average 406 milligrams per 1000 milligrams of product in the U.K., versus 455 milligrams per 1000 milligrams of product in the U.S.
But U.S. efforts to reduce sodium levels in processed foods are gaining momentum, too. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new sodium standards to gradually reduce sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day from the current consumption level of 3,400 mg per day.
“Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend,” the FDA states. “One in three individuals has high blood pressure, which has been linked to diets high in sodium and is a major risk factor cause of heart disease and stroke.”
Simultaneously, sodium-reduction efforts nationwide are being promoted by the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), which was created by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It targets packaged food manufacturers in the U.S.
Label Insight encourages nutritional researchers to tap into our vast array of data on food products and ingredients. By publishing more research about important nutritional information, we enable the industry, government and consumers to create positive change.