Shaker abstinence: FDA to regulate salt in food

by Walter Olson on April 20, 2010

The Food and Drug Administration is planning a crackdown meant to lead to “the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products,” reports the Washington Post. We’ve been warning of such developments for a while, and they come as little surprise given President Obama’s pick of hyper-regulator Margaret Hamburg as FDA commissioner.

P.S. Perhaps we should invite comment from the New York Times journalist who sternly admonished an interview subject recently: “You shouldn’t trivialize issues of health and safety by calling them nanny issues.”

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1 Dr. Spiceman 04.20.10 at 9:33 am

Research has shown that salt preference is a learned taste, learned early, so although difficult to change later in life, it is not undoable. The medical necessity for this change has been studied for decades and is fairly conclusive.

There is a pragmatic reason also. It’s far easier for a consumer to add salt than remove it from food. If you don’t believe me just try it. I have a low taste tolerance for salt, so off the shelf foods are too salty for my taste. As a result I never buy most prepared products. Not all products out there have low-salt or no-salt alternatives, so it would be a welcome change, for me at least.

2 Morton Satin 04.20.10 at 10:03 am

The FDA doesn’t get it wrong often, but if what I have seen in the Post is true, then I’m afraid they may have messed up big time on this occasion.

When salt is significantly reduced, the population’s response to salt reduction is heterogeneous with about 30% of the people experiencing a minor drop in blood pressure of 1 – 6 mmHg certainly not enough to stop taking blood pressure medicine, but nevertheless a slight drop. At the same time about 20% of the population will experience an increase in blood pressure of a similar magnitude of 1 to 6 mmHg, that may put some of them into the range where they will have to start taking blood pressure medicine. The rest of the population, about 50%, will experience no change at all. So, any policy that treats the population as a homogeneous mass greatly ends up being a discriminatory policy simply because we aren’t all the same.
Salt appetite is not learned!! It is controlled by a number of fully operational neurophysiological systems.

On top of that, women around the world, regardless of what country you’re referring to, and over and above differences due to total calorie intake and sweating losses, women will consume anywhere from 800 to 1500 mg of sodium less per day than men do. In the US the latest figures show that women consume about 1200 mg less sodium per day than men do. They did not learn this! Since we all eat from the same food supply, if you are reducing sodium across the board will women end up at greater risk of hyponatremia because they naturally consume far less sodium than men? Hyponatremia is not a joke and can seriously affect the young and the very old disastrously (cognition, diabetes, loss of balance, etc). The literature also indicates that pregnant women who consume lower salt diets give birth to lower weight children that have lifelong increased salt appetites. There is far more in the scientific literature on salt and human health than is currently under consideration by the IOM and the FDA.

They have also ignored several peer-reviewed publications indicating that congestive heart failure patients die in greater numbers or are readmitted to hospital in far greater numbers than those not placed on low salt diets.

Because of this the Salt Institute has for more than a decade repeatedly asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to carry out a large randomized controlled clinical trial to determine the actual impact of salt reduction on population health outcomes. Because we have no historical records of consuming the very low levels of salt being recommended by the IOM, by instituting a policy compelling the entire population to consume these levels of salt, we are effectively putting the entire population into the largest clinical trial ever carried out, without their consent or knowledge.

The FDA would have done the public a far better service if they had focused all their resources on more effectively promoting a fully balanced diet than focusing on a single magic bullet that the evidence does not support. Italians eat much more salt than we do, yet they have amongst the best cardiovascular figures in the world. Why? Because they eat a balanced diet with far more vegetables and fruits. Here, our vegetable consumption has dropped because we don’t spend enough time promoting their benefits to all aspects of our health.

Human health answers to a higher authority than the IOM or the FDA, as evidenced by all the peer-reviewed publications in the scientific literature. On this occasion I’m afraid that politics and public pressure has trumped a rational evaluation of all the scientific evidence available and at the end of the line, the recipient of this compulsion to regulate will be the consumer. It seems to me that the consumers deserve better treatment than this.

Morton Satin
Technical Director
Salt Institute

3 Kurt 04.20.10 at 10:40 am

I am sorry but I can’t resist.
Is that Morton from Morton’s Salt?

4 EGarland 04.20.10 at 11:17 am

What I find most disturbing/irritating about the article is the statement from the anonymous FDA official…

“The goal is to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet…”

This, I’m afraid, is classic nannyism…the official line is that we have to be trained, Pavlovian-style, to accept what someone else has decided is best for us…

5 JR 04.20.10 at 11:19 am

And Dr. Spiceman.

6 ras 04.20.10 at 12:28 pm

Those who prefer less salty food can buy something else and leave the rest of us alone. And if lower-salt products are harder to find because there’s not enough demand for them, what does that tell us?

Next up: regulated sexual positions and a ban on comfy couches that discourage exercise.

7 No Name Guy 04.20.10 at 6:27 pm

I propose that Ms. Hamburg submit to my personal nannying of every aspect of her life prior to her and her agency nannying the entire country. Mind you, my own bias will come into play in my nannying, and personal preference for her WILL be damned.

Oh – Spiceman, what Ras says. You don’t like prepared foods, don’t buy them. In this nominally free country, you’re not required to buy anything (oops…. not any more courtsey of His Greatness, The Most Holy Agent of Hope & Change).

8 Darleen Click 04.20.10 at 9:30 pm

With the government now in charge of American “healthcare” this is a surprise?

Not only is the IRS in charge of making sure everyone as “acceptable” insurance (as dictated by Feds), it won’t be long before the IRS will be in charge of collecting forms from one’s doctor that Americans have had their mandatory annual checkup and that blood pressure, bmi, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides are in the Fed dictated “acceptable” range.

Don’t laugh. Any dissent will be met with justifications that people cannot be allowed to waste taxpayer monies with being “unhealthy”.

9 Doug 04.21.10 at 6:46 am

Wasting taxpayer money, that is very funny, especially about Congress.

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