Suing Sodium

Assault on salt.


"Despite pleas from government and other health experts over the last quarter-century to reduce salt consumption," the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) complains, "Americans are consuming more–not less–salt." Current consumption averages about 4,000 milligrams a day, compared to the official recommendation of no more than 2,400 milligrams.

Since persuasion has not worked, CSPI thinks it's time to use a little force. A lawsuit the health nanny group filed in February demands that the Food and Drug Administration treat salt as an "additive" instead of an ingredient "generally recognized as safe," a step that would make it possible to impose reductions in salt content on food manufacturers.

CSPI, which back in the late '70s called salt "the deadly white powder you already snort," naturally did not consider the possibility that the problem is the government's salt guidelines rather than the public's failure to follow them. Although the group claims a 50 percent decrease in salt consumption would save 150,000 lives a year in the U.S., there is little evidence to back up such predictions.

Reviewing the data a few years ago in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Michael Alderman, a past president of the American Society of Hypertension, concluded that "existing evidence provides no support for the highly unlikely proposition that a single dietary sodium intake is an appropriate or desirable goal for the entire population." Individual reactions are highly variable, he noted, and cutting back on salt has not been shown to prolong lives. Alderman and other critics warn that it might even be dangerous, since the physiological response to salt reduction is complex.

Despite the weakness of the evidence, Alderman noted, the dogma of less salt is still "preached with a fervour usually associated with religious zealotry." Whom could he have had in mind??