Our Daily Salt
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Today in the Science Times there was a piece by John Tierney on Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to cut the amount of salt in processed and restaurant foods in half in New York City (link to article here). Mr. Tierney asserts that the initiative is unwillingly making all New Yorkers participate in a study to see the health effects of the policy and suggests that the removal of salt may subject us to unknown adverse reactions, but it appears to me that we have been the guinea pigs of the food industry all this time. While the best case scenario is for people to cook whole foods at home from scratch, that is not reality for most Americans. If we really want to improve health care in this country, we need to start with prevention. One of the best ways to do that is to improve the quality of our mass food supply – such as reducing salt intake. Here is the letter I sent to the editor today:
I laud Mayor Bloomberg and health commissioner Frieden for their initiative to reduce salt intake by 1/2 in New York City, and I take issue with Mr. Tierney’s objections to it. There are plenty of studies documenting the harmful effects of too much salt intake, linking it to high blood pressure and heart disease among other health problems. The reality is that the American diet is high in processed food, which contains large amounts of added salt that, when multiplied by an average daily food intake, equals a much higher level than recommended by the USDA. Since I sincerely doubt the food industry will voluntarily cut salt quantities, the only way to assure that the foods available in restaurants and on grocery store shelves have moderate amounts of salt is to regulate them.
Mr. Tierney’s suggestion that people will suddenly go into sodium withdrawal that may lead to unknown health repercussions is uncalled for, as cutting the amount of salt by half will still leave 50 percent of the salt that the food now contains. His comparison to the anti-fat campaign is not valid, as fat is something that naturally occurs in foods humans have consumed for thousands of years, such as meats and dairy products, whereas salt is a food additive that has only in the last century become widespread in our food supply. Finally, part of the reason why people overeat processed food is that salty foods are addictive (that’s why we can’t put down that bag of chips). The idea that people will consume even more food to compensate for less salt is unlikely; once people get used to less saltier foods, they will more likely stop eating when they are full.
Why argue that consumers are being forced to participate in this study against their will when they are still free to reach over and grab the salt shaker if they so choose? I would argue instead that consumers have been forced to sacrifice health for convenience by the lack of low-salt food choices in processed and restaurant foods.