When Mark F. Atiyeh ’14 took a bite of his first turkey sandwich of the school year in Currier House Dining Hall, he realized something tasted different. “It was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “The sandwich was always very salty last year, but now it tastes so much better and healthier.” In response to information recently released by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health on the harmful impact of high sodium intake, Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services has worked to reduce the overall sodium on its menus by 25 percent.
The change in the brand of deli meats to Hormel Natural Choice—which is low in sodium, has no artificial colors or flavors, and is gluten and preservative free—is the latest step towards this goal. “We closely follow [the Department of Nutrition’s] work and partner with them to make our menus healthier,” HUHDS Spokesperson Crista Martin said. According to the Department of Nutrition, Americans on average consume one-and-a-half (3,000 mg) or more teaspoons of salt a day, which exceeds the recommended daily intake of 2,300 milligrams. Furthermore, those at high risk of health problems from salt should limit sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults possess a high-risk factor, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or age over 40. A high-sodium diet can raise one’s risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Besides the deli meats, Martin said HUHDS has modified its recipes and communicated with vendors about minimizing sodium. Atiyeh said he is conscious about his sodium intake, and his main diet consists mostly of salads, fruits, and proteins like white eggs, fish, chicken, and turkey. Since the change in deli meats, Atiyeh said he has been eating turkey sandwiches about two to three times a week. “You can feel the difference in the taste,” he said.
But Mark R. Theilmann ’12, who was eating a turkey sandwich in Quincy House Dining Hall, said he did not notice a change in deli meats, although he added that he does not usually eat sandwiches. Theilmann also said he does not read the nutrition facts before choosing his meal. “I just try to stay away from food like chicken fingers,” he said. Likewise, Stephen L. Kent ’14 also said the deli meats tasted the same as last year. Kent, a clarinetist in the Harvard University Band, said he eats sandwiches about four times a week from Flyby and at football games. “I care about saturated and trans fat, but not sodium,” Kent said. Kent said he checked the nutrition facts online once before when someone told him that clam chowder and Alfredo sauce were unhealthy. Since discovering that these two items are high in calories and fat, he said he has been trying to avoid them. “Sodium is something one can add to taste, but you can’t take it away when it’s already in a recipe or food,” Martin said, adding that she hopes to provide options for students so they can make healthier choices.
—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.