To understand how healthy a food is, we generally look at its components – carbohydrates, fats and proteins, or the vitamins, minerals and other substances it may contain. But this purely “nutritional” vision overlooks one property that’s a key part of a food’s health potential – its structure. For example, serving a child a breakfast cereal made up of whole wheat or rice may seem like a good idea, but research shows that processing can significantly impact its nutritive qualities. Extrusion-cooking or puffing can transform wheat and rice into primarily a source of sugars that the child’s body rapidly absorbs, and many of the nutritive values of the original grains are lost.
The human body needs a tiny amount of sodium to function properly and this is typically found in salt (sodium chloride). But today most people consume way too much salt, increasing the burden of cardiovascular disease around the world. Health professionals have been trying to tackle this problem for decades, but face several barriers, including research that muddies the water about what safe levels of salt intake are. This has cast unnecessary doubt on the importance of reducing intakes. But our latest research has found flaws in these studies and suggests that salt intake should be reduced even further than current recommendations.
In 2018, Congress initiated a series of actions that represent a shift away from placing the full responsibility – and blame – on individual people to make their own healthier choices. These actions also show a growing recognition that many stakeholders – including the government – are accountable for a healthier, more equitable food system. This shift in thinking reflects an understanding that government can and should play a role in improving the diet of Americans.