I flew from Ottawa to Edmonton via Toronto today (Wednesday) on Air Canada. Sometime in the last couple of years Air Canada changed their fare structure and stopped providing hot meals on the longer domestic flights. Instead, they have a snack cart from which you can buy things to munch on. For sale are chips, pretzels, chocolate bars, bags of carrot sticks, and apple slices with caramel dipping sauce. Also on the menu are things like little pizzas (though not always available), and a selection of three sandwiches from Quiznos. (There are also some breakfast things that are often available on flights that start before a certain time.) I’ve been watching my sodium intake since earlier this year and paying a lot of attention to the nutrition score boxes printed on almost every food item that’s for sale these days.
Sodium intake has been linked to hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension has been linked to all sorts of problems including heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke and other things, all of which tend to lead to premature death. Statistics Canada published results of the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) last April that revealed that most Canadian consume much more sodium than is necessary or recommended. The Statistics Canada report quotes the Institute of Medicine recommended daily adequate intakes for sodium as being 1500 mg for someone aged 9 to 50. Nationally, the typical Canadian consumes 3092 mg of sodium, with the provincial levels ranging from 3350 mg and 3300 mg in Quebec and British Columbia, respectively, to 2871 mg in Ontario, the only province significantly below the Canadian figure.
Because of the limited selection by the time the cart made it to me, I ended up buying a roast beef Quiznos sandwich. Reading the score box, I was appalled to discover that the small sandwich had 2000 mg of sodium in it. That’s one-third more than the recommended average daily intake for someone my age. It’s easy to see why Canadians have so much sodium in their diet.
Unfortunately, the elimination of meals on Air Canada, at least for economy class fares, means passengers no longer have the same selection of meals they once did. I’m not sure exactly how many meals you could choose from, but there were meals for almost everyone from Kosher to vegetarian to gluten-free to low-sodium. So, if I’m trying to keep my sodium intake below the recommended limit of 1500 mg, there’s very little on Air Canada’s snack cart that I can eat, particularly as I have yet to see the full selection available on any of the 14 flights I’ve taken in the last seven weeks.