>> Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Too much of anything is unhealthy, particularly public measures taken in the name of health.
The news that the Food and Drug Administration is moving to limit the salt allowed in processed food is in my view disturbing, coming as it does on the heels of New York City’s campaign to reduce by 25% the salt content of food products and chain restaurant menus. It’s not that I’m an advocate of potato chips, or hot dogs with 1100 grams of sodium. It’s just that even the best of intentions need more than a sprinkling of clinical rationale.
At first glance, the case against salt couldn’t be more damning. Most American adults consume salt levels that are twice the US recommended limit. Elevated intake of sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and other health problems. A report by the Institute of Medicine claims that a federal effort to reduce salt in what we eat could prevent 100,000 deaths a year. “Limiting sodium might be the single most important thing the FDA can do to promote health,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The trouble is that, as John Tierney recently pointed out in the New York Times, the core assumptions of this “Salt Scare” have been seriously challenged in the medical community. An article published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology has disputed whether limiting sodium in processed food actually reduces the amount of salt people consume. And in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a leading hypertension expert questioned the evidence that a low-salt diet lowers the incidence of heart attack and stroke.
Generally, where health and lifestyle are concerned, I’m compliantly correct. I take the stairs instead of the escalator. My sex is safe, my diet is low-fat. I get 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables ever day, usually by breakfast time. The last time I had a cigarette, Taft was president.
But this is where I draw the line. Seeking salt is a basic human instinct, and I’m only human. I love salty foods: pickles, olives, lox, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, provolone cheese. Pretzels! If that’s a vice, it’s a vice I plan on indulging, at least until clinical studies crystallize the merits of abstinence.
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