The 'War On Salt' Is Bad Policy Based on Bad Science

FDA targets salt.


The Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the few openly authoritarian organizations functioning in the United States, once sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for refusing to regulate Americans' salt intake. No worries. This week, the Obama administration finally embraced CSPI's junk science and allowed the FDA to set new "guidelines" to "nudge" companies into treating a perfectly harmless ingredient as if it were a dangerous chemical.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell explained that pressuring private companies into lowering sodium levels is "about putting power back in the hands of consumers." Of course, consumers already have an array of bland, low-sodium choices, if they desire. But in progressive-speak, limiting choices is tantamount to attaining power. According to our government, consumers having too many choices means "the deck has been stacked against them."

The good news is that the FDA is almost always wrong about everything. The bad news is that these guidelines set an incredibly ridiculous precedent that allows our intrusive government to mislead Americans with bad advice.

But let's concede for a moment and say that sodium is killing you.

If you're one of those last starry-eyed idealists, you may ask yourself: "What governing principle empowers the Obama administration to launch crusades that ensure every citizen is living salubriously? What principle authorizes the state to control how salty my soup is?" Life is a killer, after all. If Washington, D.C. can regulate the amount of ingredients in foods—not poisonous ingredients, or instantaneously unhealthy ingredients or even hidden ingredients, but ingredients that the CSPI has decided to whine about—what can't it regulate? And if salt is worthy of all this attention, why is the Obama administration allowing citizens to commit mass suicidal acts by ingesting sugar? Or dairy? Or bleached white flour? Or canola oil?

"Americans need to reduce their sodium intake to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke," explained CSPI President Michael F. Jacobson to ABC News after the FDA released its memo. "If companies achieved the FDA's proposed targets, it would have a huge benefit for the public's health. If companies don't achieve these voluntary targets, it would be clear that mandatory limits will be necessary to reach safe sodium levels."

Now, you may ask yourself, "Who the hell is Michael F. Jacobson to tell me what I need to do?" Well, Jacobson's organization, meticulously debunked since 1971, now says that if you don't do something voluntarily then the government has the duty to force you, which sounds about right these days on almost every front.

But, setting all that aside, what happens if salt isn't even bad for you? What if CSPI is wrong, as usual? What if the FDA is pushing flawed science and compelling companies to engage in practices that will do nothing to improve public health? What if these practices end up hurting people?

Not long ago, a meta-analysis of seven studies in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that reduced sodium intake lowers the risk for strokes, heart attacks or death for people with normal or high blood pressure. Some studies, in fact, found that salt has beneficial effects. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association, which followed 3,700 healthy people for eight years, found similar benefits.

A couple of years ago, Scientific American reported that "meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure."

Obviously, there is still disagreement over what these studies mean. But, surely, the FDA has no business authorizing a position on salt when a definitive one has not been reached in the scientific community. "The science is uncertain," Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told USA Today this week. "If you're in the general population, I can't support the widespread recommendation to reduce sodium intake."

Now, I get that this saves Americans the bother of thinking or acting for themselves, which is how we like it. Americans want to label everything and be warned about all things. All things. A new study by The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal found that 80 percent of people surveyed want labels on food containing DNA. The number is nearly the same as those who support labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, which have been found to be about as dangerous as DNA.

No doubt, if we asked people about salt, we'd see similar reactions. Generally, though, those who want to be healthy use the tools they have, and others do not. For those who care, for instance, the FDA just updated the "Nutritional Facts" label on most packaged foods. It's one thing to try and ensure more transparency, and it's another for the government to solidify bad science and engage in needlessly intrusive policies that attempt to dictate what we can eat.


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  1. It’s the same game as with everything else – make restaurants lower salt to make the food bland, which makes people either over-salt or eat more because they’re not satisfied. Then they get fat and unhealthy and the studies prove: “People are unhealthy so we must lower salt intake even further!” It’s a vicious cycle. Which is how all government policy works, by the way. (The agenda is simply a fillip to the healthcare industry.)

    1. Like when they waged a war on fat in foods, and so food producers stopped putting saturated fats (like butter) in food and suddenly their food sucked ass, so they put in sugar to improve it. Turns out sat. fat is perfectly healthy and refined carbs are likely more culpable in heart disease. Fuck the FDA. Also, parts of this article read like they were ghost written by Judge N. with all the damn questions.

      1. I second this comment.

      2. They also increased salt content after removing fat and then sugar

  2. You need salt.. they put iodine in it… so people don’t get sickness. It’s known to be “the leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

    But I’m not the type to believe in conspiracy theories or anything, other than that I guess less salt can’t be too bad.

    1. The salt used in most restaurants and in packaged foods does not have added iodine, so, while I disagree with these guidelines I think they are unlikely to have a significant effect on iodine intake. I prefer Kosher salt (no added iodine) for most uses, but I keep a canister of Morton’s around for things like salting pasta water, mainly for the iodine. Also, I was fascinated by the recursive umbrella girl as a kid, so I have some affection for the brand.

      If we are really worried about iodine intake, we ought to think about how little people cook at home these days. When I was a kid having someone prepare food for us was a luxury, something we might indulge in once every few weeks. And despite the fact that my mother was a proto-foodie the salt we used was always iodized.

      Anyway, I’ll worry about this when I see the pro-goiter movement come into existence, and not before.

      1. that’s why I prefer nuclear weapons, for the Iodine uptake from the fallout…that way I can keep my iodized salt intake low…

  3. Genetic defect disturbs salt handling and pushes up blood pressure levels: Gene responsible for hypertension identified

    The research group headed by Thomas B?ttger from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim has looked closer at the gene SLC4A5. This gene encodes a protein that transports certain ions (salt compounds), thereby preventing an excessive concentration of salt in the blood. The scientists were able to prove that a defect in this particular gene causes excessive renal retention of sodium and water. This leads to an abnormal increase in blood pressure.

    I had heard something like this a while back, and took the first paper I found. The title at least seems to indicate (italics mine) that the “gene responsible for hypertension identified”. All Americans would have this information by now, to know if they’re at risk for this, if the FDA hadn’t been fucking 23andMe in the ass for the last decade.

    And I in particular would have it, because that was one of the genes that 23andMe sequenced, but they haven’t given me the data analysis because the FDA sucks.

    I don’t mention this often enough:

    Vote Woodchipper 2016!

  4. I want a warning on ‘Big Government.’

    WARNING – Big Government is more addicting than crack cocaine.

    1. WARNING: Big government is the leading cause of death world-wide.

  5. Which is worse, really? Having high blood pressure, or spending 80 years eating shitty food?

    1. Given the number of people who prefer to be investigated and groped before getting on a plane as compared with living free and taking their very sight chances with a terrorist, I’m guessing most of the sheep prefer 80 years of eating shitty food.

      And sodium is just one reason for high blood pressure. I can eat fresh home cooked with no salt, get exercise etc etc and my BP is still high. It ain’t the salt!

      Besides, what is better, to use a moderate amount of salt early in a recipe when it has a large effect, or dump a ton of salt on at the table, which just leaves you with salty food?

      The solution is less government, but I’m preaching to the saved on that one here.

  6. As government takes more control over healthcare in this country you can expect an even greater reduction in freedoms.

    When the “public” is paying for your healthcare, the public now has a say in how you live your life.

    It starts with salt, then donuts, then smoking and drinking. Eventually there will be a government agency tracking your weight, physical activity and gym attendance.

    1. You can take my life… but you canna take my donuts!

  7. Good to see Harsanyi finally take issue with an unnecessary “war.”

    Sadly, he saves his outrage for a war that is a suggestion. We all wish he would have professed similar outrage for a a war that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives…Iraq. That war he was all for.

    1. killer ad hominem, bro. and so relevant!

      1. Why do you have a blog about IT?

  8. I just finished my 2 oz bag of “Rold Gold Pretzels” with 900mg of Sodium. Delicious!

    When I was in the Navy back in the early ’70s, they had a salt tablet dispenser near the water fountain. We were encouraged to have at least one per day if we stood watches in the engine room.

    Whatever. I’ll die on my bike before I die from too much salt. More and more distracted, impaired, or otherwise bad drivers on the road.

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  11. I’ve been watching the “Center for Science in the Public Interest” off and on since the 1980’s. In that time they have never published anything that didn’t reek of bullshit, never made a statement that wasn’t utter nonsense, and never recommended a policy that wouldn’t make things worse.

    It’s a remarkable record, in its own twisted way.

  12. My doctor suggested my blood pressure might be elevated. So for a few months I reduced my sodium intake considerably. At the next checkup… no difference in blood pressure.

    I told him what I’d done. He sheepishly explained that for anyone with functioning kidneys, sodium intake has no effect on blood pressure : the salt goes in and the kidneys take it out. He further explained that doctors are taught to tell their patients to reduce salt intake because reducing salt generally means reducing fast food, junk food, etc.

    In other words, it’s one big lie.

    1. And the truth about that lie is starting to come out!

      1. The salt is out there, Scully.

        1. yup, right next to the sugar…

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  15. Question: why should it be assumed that everyone’s health needs are identical? Some people need more salt than others. There are actually people who suffer from unhealthily low blood pressure, and then there are endocrine conditions like congenital adrenal hyperplasia that actually cause people who suffer from them to *waste* salt–their bodies just piss it away and they have to increase their salt intake to keep it at a normal level. If you’re not my doctor and you don’t know anything about my routine bloodwork, then who in the hell are you to decide what’s healthy for me?

    Can we also talk about that fact that salt is not a crystalline form of the Antichrist? It’s an electrolyte, just like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Your body needs a proper balance of these four minerals to function properly, and they are necessary for the upkeep of everything from the nervous system to the musculoskeletal system to the urinary tract. If any of these electrolytes go off-kilter, dehydration may result. This is especially true in hot climates. No salt, no hydration. You don’t need to fear and hate salt, you just need the balance that’s right for your body. Is everyone completely scientifically illitera–oh, wait, we’re talking about politicians here. Of course.

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