Sunday, May 30, 2010

Is Salt the Enemy?

The latest fad in health paranoia: SALT.

As high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension and obesity among Americans are still on the rise, respected and powerful figures such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and First Lady Michelle Obama have made it known that they're on the anti-sodium bandwagon.  Many health advocates point to salt as a main culprit and there are cries to reclassify salt as a regulated food additive rather than leaving it as a harmless common kitchen ingredient.

But is salt the real enemy?  Used since ancient times as a way to preserve meat, salt has been around for centuries before problems like hypertension ever became a concern.  The F.D.A is looking to significantly decrease salt content in the products of giant processed food corporations such as PepsiCo, Kellogg, Campbell, Oscar Meyer and ConAgra.  Such regulations would evaporate a big chunk of sales, since salt is such a crucial element in processed foods.  Besides the products losing any palatable taste or texture, replacing salt with other alternatives would greatly increase food costs for the average consumer.

Personally, I'm willing to shell out the extra bucks for healthier processed foods and the food giants should be making a move in the direction of fresher, greener ingredients anyway, but I stand firm that salt shall remain in my diet (how could it not?).  The average American should be eating less and simply balancing out their diet beyond packaged goods.  As Gabriella Petrick (author of the forthcoming Industrializing Taste: Food Processing and the Transformation of the American Diet) once told me,
There might be some slight benefit [to organic food], but it's not an either or.  Ultimately those issues depends on what the individual puts inside of their body and the particular food choices they make.  Say there was an all organic McDonalds.  I could go to McDonalds and order all organic--that's not necessarily going to protect me from all of these dietary issues just because it's organic. (while the quote is about organic foods, context still applies. See this videoclip for some of her interesting insights.)   
All this finger pointing at sugar, fats, salts, still has yet to prove to be of any real merit.  Yes, they are linked to diseases, but all of these FDA ingredient-specific regulations are for naught as America grows fatter and unhealthier by the day.  I'm with ConAgra on this one:
ConAgra, whose brands include Chef Boyardee and Orville Redenbacher, made a different argument to the panel. It submitted a study it commissioned that asserted that far more savings in health care costs — about $58 billion — could be generated if people simply cut 100 calories from their daily diets than if they consumed less salt. (New York Times)
Salt is a wonderful and key component to great cuisine.  If you think the purpose of salt is to only make things saltier, think again!  Salt is also used in baked goods (bread will never be the same without it) and sweets as a way to balance or bring out flavors and can completely change the texture of food.   Just remember, as mommy always says, everything in moderation. 

See here for "The Hard Sell on Salt" (New York Times).


  1. This looks like just another excuse for Americans on why they're fat and unhealthy. It's a fad, has to be, just like the lo-cal diet, the south beach diet, the Lo-carb diet, etc.

    The real problem is the culture of eating in excess, binge eating, and the fast foods that we have here. No other country has as many fast food chains as we do. Look at China, once they started having McDonald's sprout up everywhere as a sign of social standing. Obesity has gone through the roof.

    I personally think that if they REALLY want to reduce obesity, they should look at portion sizes and changing the big meal eating culture.

  2. I think there was a lawsuit a while back either in the UK or Australia where some woman's "nutritionist" put her on a diet so low in sodium that she suffered mental illness/retardation. As always, the key, especially with Americans, is a question of moderation.



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