Big Salt- Getting to the Meat of the Matter

Image Credit: Bruno Glätsch / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Why is Extra Salt Injected into Meat?

Why is the salt industry so powerful? It has its own PR and lobbying firms to play tobacco industry-style tactics to downplay the dangers of high salt intake, but salt is so cheap. How much money is the industry really making? As I discuss in my video Big Salt: Getting to the Meat of the Matter, it’s not the salt mine barons who’re raking it in—it’s the processed food industry. Indeed, the trillion-dollar processed food industry uses dirt-cheap added salt and sugar to sell us their junk, and, by hooking us on hypersweet and hypersalty foods, our taste buds get so dampened down that natural foods may taste like cardboard. The ripest fruit may not be as sweet as Froot Loops, so we just continue to buy more and more of the processed junk.

There are two other major reasons the food industry adds salt to food. “The other 2 reasons, however, are entirely commercial and for most foods are the real reason the food industry wants the intake of salt to remain high.” If salt is added to meat, it draws in water, so the weight can be increased by about 20 percent. Since meat is often sold by the pound, that’s 20 percent more profit for very little cost.

Salt also makes us thirsty. There’s a reason bars offer free salted peanuts and soda companies own snack food companies. It is not coincidence that Pepsi and Frito-Lay are the same company. Would we shell out nine dollars for a drink at the movies after eating a bucket of unsalted popcorn? Would we supersize our soda if they didn’t salt our fries and Big Mac?

Salt is also added to meat because it solubilizes the muscle proteins into a gel for “optimum” meat texture, which is one of the reasons the meat and fish industries like transglutaminase, the “meat glue” enzyme. Meat glue can help gel the muscle protein without adding salt.

Some of these salt alternatives leave a bitter aftertaste in the meat, but this problem can be managed by adding chemical “bitter blockers…which work by blocking the activation  of [our] taste receptor cells and thereby preventing taste nerve simulation”—that is, the information is stopped from ever reaching our brain.

The meat industry acknowledges that its products contribute a significant amount of dietary sodium, “maligning their own image,” but salt is just so cheap that using anything else would cost the industry money. However, if the meat industry is able to resolve this cost issue—if it can make it cost-effective—then, one day, perhaps it could end up (as the meat industry itself said) “saving millions of lives as well as dollars.”


You can rejuvenate your taste buds if you cut down on foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. Check out Changing Our Taste Buds.

Did I say meat glue? If you have never heard of it, see my video Is Meat Glue Safe?.

The meat industry’s reaction to salt reminds me of its response to the classification of processed meat as a known human carcinogen. See Meat Industry Reaction to New Cancer Guidelines and The Palatability of Cancer Prevention.

Isn’t there controversy as to how bad salt really is for you? Decide for yourself with the science:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


40 responses to “Why is Extra Salt Injected into Meat?

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  1. I watched the video about changing our taste buds and, after that I clicked on the study link above and got to PubMed and another link caught my eye.

    Even when people hadn’t gone through a taste bud change process, there was a taco filling study where they replaced some of the sodium with mushrooms and they found that the consumers preferred a mixture of 45% mushroom with reduced sodium taco filling compared to its full sodium counterpart in a food-preference sensory test.

    That might be a hint for people who are struggling to kick the salt habit.

  2. When I was watching all of the old ads in Game Changers, people really were taught so many of the bad habits in these ridiculously incessantly manipulative ways.

    Plus, they aren’t being taught things like that meat has sodium injected.

    Plus, the Press acting so dumb added so much to the overall confusion.

    Watching how the Press responded every single time, it is almost like they are intentionally playing the dumb blonde stereotype about all of it and I remembered watching so many of those segments, so that might make me the even dumber blonde stereotype for thinking that the press actually were talking about things they understood when it is so obvious that they just like the titillation. They just want interesting television and to keep their top advertisers happy.

    I am wondering if the fact that more and more products have started having low sodium and no sodium versions if that alone will change health outcomes.

  3. I genuinely consider the Press and Hollywood complicit.

    Obviously the government is, too.

    How much of the wealth out there comes from destroying people’s lives?

    These industries making a fortune on all of it and not acknowledging all of the dead bodies and devastated families.

    The most ambitious serial killer couldn’t have designed a bigger plan.

    1. Yes, politicians are talking about the opioid crisis. Not to make light of the opioid crisis, well more than half a million people are dying of heart disease each year. Ditto cancer. What about the heart disease crisis? What about the cancer crisis? The last I read is that less than 100,000 people die of opioids per year. Funny how we set our priorities….

      1. Aah, yes but the ‘experts’ can’t agree on diet and health … and our own research indicates that our products are healthy/harmless as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. And here’s a couple of million for your next election campaign and/or research.

        What’s wrong with that?

        1. Well, I can’t help but imagine what a dramatic effect changing our country’s diet would have. (I know you are not in the U.S…..) It’s irritating to be able to see what a dramatic change it could cause but not to be able to do much about it. Yes, contributing to NutritionFacts.org helps, but we still have a massive problem caused by faulty priorities.

          Virus-free.
          http://www.avast.com

          Virus-free.
          http://www.avast.com

  4. I believe salt is also used to cover the lousy taste of processed foods and soups and to convince people that if everything taste like salt, it normal.

  5. Forgie me if I missed it, but we could really use some discussion of just what “processing” of foods is harmful, since on a fundamental basis ALL food is “processed” in some way or other.
    I would expect that mechanical processing would be least detrimental, followed by cooking or freezing, and then that can of worms we know as additive processing… Is it not perhaps “additive-enhanced” food that concerns us rather than mere “processing” ?

    1. I personally think of processing as anything that simplified and concentrates nutrients both of which are going in the wrong direction for health.

    2. Michael Lauriston,

      I searched for the term “processed” in the search bar on this site, and came up with this:

      “What do I mean by processed? The classic example is the milling of grains from whole wheat—for example, to white flour. Isn’t it ironic that these are then called “refined” grains, a word that means improved, or made more elegant? The elegance was not felt by the millions who died from beriberi in the 19th century, a vitamin B-deficiency disease that resulted from polishing rice from brown to white. White rice is now enriched with vitamins to compensate for the “refinement.” A Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the cause of beriberi and its cure—rice bran, the brown part of rice. Beriberi can cause damage to the heart muscle, resulting in sudden death from heart failure. Surely, such a thing could never happen in modern times. I mean, an epidemic of heart disease that could be prevented and cured with a change in diet? Check out my videos on heart disease.

      Sometimes, though, processing can make foods healthier. For example, tomato appears to be the one common juice that may actually be healthier than the whole fruit. The processing of tomato products boosts the availability of the antioxidant red pigment by as much as five-fold. Similarly, the removal of fat from cacao beans to make cocoa powder improves the nutritional profile, since cocoa butter is one of the rare saturated plant fats (along with coconut and palm kernel oils) that may raise cholesterol.

      So, for the purposes of the traffic light model, I like to think of “unprocessed” as nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dining-by-traffic-light-green-is-for-go-red-is-for-stop/

  6. Does meat labeled “organic” still have salt injected? Does it depend on provider? How do we find out if any brand or local provider does not use salt? Is calling the only way?

  7. Pardon my ignorance, but is Himalayan or Sea Salt or even that Selena Naturally Salt okay for us? Or at least better?? I know that products like Morton Iodized Salt have basically nothing to offer, and some say it isn’t even technically salt. Are we still doing as much harm by using the other types I mentioned above?

    1. Salt is salt. They are all sodium chloride and if you know the daily limit you should be using, it applies to all. The only difference might be the quantity of salt since some take up more room than others in a measuring spoon. Don’t know how you would compare unless you have a scale that is accurate in grams.

      1. Why add any salt at all, be it sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, or whatever? Yes, the body needs salt but my understanding is that can easily come from other foods. Himalayan or Sea salt or whatever I believe contain some trace minerals in tiny quantities which likewise can be found elsewhere and not artificially added. Their main ingredient is marketing, lots more than a trace of that!

        The only time I can recall using “salt” from a box, was to sprinkle on a scratch that would not stop bleeding. For that purpose, it worked wonders.

        1. mlarsne,

          I’ve used salt on leeches, after swimming in leech infested lakes.

          Though there may be other more humane ways of getting rid of them. This was back in the bad old days.

          And I agree with you: why add salt to your food at all? We stopped adding salt, at the table and in the kitchen, and now we use a lot more spices! We also try to avoid it when eating out (very tough to do!) or buying “lightly processed” foods (canned tomatoes or cooked beans, for example).

    2. Pam,

      A lot of people who are WFPB use Miso or Soy Sauce to get a salty flavor in recipes.

      Dr. Greger has a video and the potassium in the soy makes the sodium in the miso less harmful.

      1. Deb,

        Soy sauce is very high in salt. So it’s not just providing a “salty flavor,’ it’s actually providing a lot of salt. We use it sparingly.

        Miso can also be high in salt; though I think Dr. Greger has said there must be something in miso that counteracts the effects of its high salt. At least, perhaps some of its effects. I think the theory is that it might be the soy protein or soy in general that counteract\s the effects of salt in miso on cancer and high blood pressure: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-miso-healthy/

        1. Instead of salting the boiling water for my morning hot cereal, I later add a tiny dab (less than 1/4 teas.) to the cereal after it’s cooked. There are good things to be said about miso.

        2. Do we not often find that our tendency to focus on single components of a food cause us to overlook other components, and synergistic effects? I have noticed recently that the oily fish promoted in the Mediterranean Diet are touted as having lots of omega 3 – yet recent studies suggest that the value of Omega 3 has been overrated. Is it not likely that the various fish in the Med. Diet have a combination of components which are of value when working together? [ I note that Dr. G. is not a particular fan of fish in general, I wonder if legumes, etc. provide similar ingredients]

    3. Pam

      As caffreyc1945 wites, salt is salt.. it’s the sodium in salt that is problematic and there is just as much in the very high-priced fancy salts as there is in cheap table salt.

      The difference is that there are more contaminants, by and large, in the fancy salts like Himalayan and sea salt, celtic salt etc. The marketers spin this contamination into a supposed benefit by emphasisng that some of these additional mineral contaminants are actually good for us. In fact, the amounts are so minuscule that they are almost certainly irrelevant. What the marketers never ever mention, though, are all the other minerals like arsenic, lead, radium, mercury, polonium etc that are also in such salts. See this anlaysis here:
      https://themeadow.com/pages/minerals-in-himalayan-pink-salt-spectral-analysis

      I’d suggest that, if you must use added salt, ignore all the marketing hype and save your money by buying ordinary table salt

      1. Hi, everyone!
        These are all great points. I have cut way down on my family’s use of salt in the last few years, but as another post said, I would also like to know other sources of the minerals so as not to disrupt the balance of my thyroid.

        Of note, I made a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies several years ago for my husband, and I forgot to add in the salt. Good night–they were disgusting!! I do know that a trace of salt brings out some of the sweetness in foods. But it’s like was said earlier, if we can train our taste buds to eat foods without relying on salt and sugar we would be way better off. My poor chocolate chip cookies, though!!

        1. Hello Pam, and thank you for your question. I am a family doctor with a private practice in lifestyle medicine and also a volunteer for Dr. Greger on this website.

          Salt (sodium chloride) has lots of bad effects, as Dr. Greger has pointed out in several videos. These include raising blood pressure (in most people), and impaired arterial function within 30 minutes: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/sodium-and-arterial-function-a-salting-our-endothelium/ — [This video contains links to many of his other videos on salt].

          You raise a question about “other sources of the minerals so as not to disrupt the balance of my thyroid.” If you are talking about iodine, then you raise a very important point.

          Normal functioning of your thyroid depends on having an adequate intake of iodine. If you are vegan (i.e. no seafood, meat or dairy), and don’t eat some type of seaweed, then your main source of iodine is probably iodized salt.

          But if you are on a low-salt diet AND are vegan, then you could develop hypothyroidism, which results in various symptoms including fatigue, constipation, increased sensitivity to cold, weight gain, and many others. [This happened to me].

          Also, even if you eat some salt, you could be iodine deficient if that salt is not “iodized.” Non-iodized salt includes most of the popular alternatives to table salt: “sea salt”, “Himalayan salt”, etc.

          So, if you are vegan and also consume no (or very little) iodized salt, you need to take a daily iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine, most commonly sold as potassium iodide.

          Besides iodine, I can’t think of other minerals you would need to add to support thyroid function.

          Finally, you made a good point about “train(ing) our taste buds” to get used to less salty foods. This really does work. I have found that almost all food available in restaurants is WAY over-salted, to the point that it tastes bad — which is why I rarely eat out.

          And un-salted food doesn’t have to taste bland, because there are so many other tasty spices and foods you can use: garlic, onions, mustard, basil, oregano, pepper, turmeric, cumin, paprika, thyme, sage, cinnamon, etc., etc.

          I hope this answered your question.
          Dr. Jon
          PhysicianAssistedWellness.com
          Health Support Volunteer for NutritionFacts.org

    4. Hello Pam,

      Even the brilliantly marketed sea salts have little to offer. We don’t have a requirement for added salt in the diet and even if they contain small amounts of trace minerals, they have the ability to raise our blood pressure, which is not good. One could even argue that iodized salt is better because it helps prevent iodine deficiency, but even then, it’s better to get our iodine from sea vegetables. So in short, it’s best to avoid added salt, regardless of its source.

      I hope this helps,

      Dr. Matt, Health Support

  8. Hi Pam amd caffreyC1945.

    A diet low in iodine can cause a swelling of the thyroid gland called goiter, poor thinking skills, and a sluggish metabolism among other maladies, according to Harvard Medical School. By adding iodine to salt, the rate of people with goiter dropped from 30% to less than 2% in 10 years in Michigan, so iodized salt became popular after the mid 1920’s in the United States.

    The article, entitled, “Cut Salt–It Won’t Affect Your Iodine Intake”, goes on to say that processed food companies *don’t* use ionized salt, so junk food junkies can’t get it that way! Also, sea salt has very little iodine, which goes against what one would think.

    Unfortunately, Harvard Medical School recommends the very foods we are avoiding for better health as good sources of iodine except for vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil (good luck) or multi-vitamins. The average adult needs 150 micrograms/day and although I’m not advocating salt, that’s the amount in 2/3 teaspoon of ionized salt.

    1. Jean,

      I eat small servings of dried seaweed, dulse. I started eating it as a substitute for potato chips (one of my past vices, or indulgences).

      And: “But if, for good reason, we don’t add salt to our food, we just need to get our iodine somewhere. Cow milk drinkers get it because iodine-containing disinfectants are used to disinfect the milk tanks, and so the iodine sort of leaches into the milk. The best source is sea vegetables, or you can get it in a multivitamin.”. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/avoiding-iodine-deficiency-2/

      I love the part about the iodine in milk coming from the disinfectants! Unanticipated consequences.

    2. I wonder if any of our more highly research-oriented members would know of a list of dietary and other edible sources of iodine? They must surely exist and be fairly readily available or the human race would not have made it to our present highly pharmacologically dependent state!

  9. As usual all meat is lumped together. But there is:

    Meat from many different species. Among beef there is:

    Processed Beef; Unprocessed Standard Beef; Organic Beef; 100% Grass Fed Beef.

    I’ve heard of salt added to Processed Meats of all species, salt added to standard beef;

    but I have never heard of salt added to either organic beef or 100% grass fed beef.

    ???????

    1. Good question..

      I’d always assumed that they must add stuff to at least some grass fed organic beef products. Otherwise the older meats would be a paler or greyer colour instead of the vibrant red stuff we always see in supermarkets and butchers. But fresh meat is presumably naturally red.

      The meats might also be washed in (salt) water at some stage during processing and a degree of absorption would occur?.

      1. Of course in the days before refrigeration, salt was often added to meats in massive quantities as a preservative. I wonder how we survived that era?

  10. Salt actually disguises the taste of the basic food. You think it brings the food to life. If you do not use extra salt, soon you come to taste the amazing array of many of the things we eat.. these are easily swamped out by salt . Simply because of its STRONG taste, that our taste buds are taught to look for, like Sugar in a cup of coffee. Do without extra SALT and SUGAR for a short while and you will realize what you have been missing Ray

  11. I thought salt was being used as a preservative to reduce spoilage, as it is bactericidal; meat was heavily salted before refrigeration, and salting may also prolong its storage now; am I wrong?

  12. I have been told I need a fairly high salt intake because I have a permanent ileostomy (following colon cancer and total colectomy) – I make up my own rehydration drink daily and it has some Himalayan pink rock salt in it. Since starting to transition to a whole-food plant-based diet I have noticed I am reaching for the salt cellar less and less – amazing how one’s tastes change, isn’t it! I eat very little processed food of any kind now. I wish I had known what I know now years ago, and I could have saved myself years of suffering with ulcerative colitis and then cancer. 4 years on and I’m still here and loving this new way of life.

    I am enjoying your videos very much. You are one of the most informative and amusing speakers around – one particular favourite is “More than an Apple a Day” – I had some friends round last week and we watched it together. Two of them have type 2 diabetes and I am trying to persuade them that a whole-food plant-based diet is the way forward for them.

    Thanks for all the hard work you do on our behalf.

  13. Salt is very important in our diet but sometimes when taken in excess it becomes dangerous to our health. It’s believed to cause high blood pressure. We can’t do without salt since our bodies need it. But the health experts are advising people to minimize salt intake although most of the companies food products are junk with a lot of dirty salt, which is harmful for human consumption. For instance, roasted meat ones you sprinkle salt on it reduces the amount of water in it hence after taking you become thirsty. We go for drinks that still contains sugar and salts that interfere with our body systems.

  14. How do you feel about taking iodine supplements instead of using so much salt in my meals? I mean, i’ll get my iodine content and won’t have to deal with the complications of high salt intake.

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