The application of salt on food has done much to buoy up society's tireless march towards progress. Salted meat allowed for preservation of protein, which strengthened pioneers as they crossed vast unexplored distances. And in modern times, salted snack foods allow tireless programmers the sustenance to code the world into the impossibly bright technological future. (Those are my only two examples. Deal with it.)
Humans are wired for salt. It’s one of the basic tastes we can detect—most likely because Na (sodium) in NaCl (sodium chloride, table salt) is integral to the chemical processes that allow us to move and think. Our bodies are very good at regulating sodium: The kidneys do much of this work, and are aided by various organs and hormones that can induce salt cravings when necessary.
For much of the development of our species, our sodium input came from the mineral content of unseasoned plants, and animal meat. Also, maybe, licking rocks. That was enough to get us out of the trees, upright, walking, and hunting. As we eventually began building skyscrapers, cars, video game consoles, espresso machines, and vibrating dildos, we developed an incredible amount of ways to get more sodium into our system.
Salt is very pleasurable and deeply comforting. It makes things taste better. It is important to cuisine around the world.
But have we gone too far?
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, set up by the U.S. government to revise federal nutrition standards, believes we have gone to far. From the Wall Street Journal:
Among the recommendations: Americans should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of salt. Current guidelines recommend a maximum of 2,300 mg, equivalent to one teaspoon of salt, for the general population, and 1,500 milligrams for at-risk adults, such as those with high blood pressure. The panel recommended 1,500 mg for everyone.
We’ve been hearing for years, from folks like the CDC’s Dr. Thomas Frieden and the AMA, that American’s use (some say abuse) of salt is leading to a crisis of hypertension and heart disease and death and mayhem and the rise of Satan’s minions and OH GOD EVERYBODY PANIC!
Not so fast retorts Dr. David McCarron of UC, Davis. He had this to say about the new guidelines in a recent editorial in Canada’s Financial Post:
Our analysis of the government’s data showed that the range of salt consumption by Americans is not different from that of other societies and that it has not increased over the past 25 years — in sharp contrast to Frieden’s opinion and those of Canadian advocates for lower salt intake. More importantly, the lower limit of this range of intake bears little resemblance to the current U.S. government guidelines.
Say what? McCarron suggests there are plenty of scientific studies which point to the fact current salt consumption isn’t harming American health outcomes, and mandatory decreases in sodium intake could actually harm people. Of course, such an opinion isn’t surprising coming from “a consultant for the food industry.”
Around and around it goes. Same as it ever was. We legislate to the stupidest and most vulnerable in our society, and the industries profiting from (often willful) ignorance and complacency push back.
The answers here seem fairly obvious to me. I do not believe our poor health outcomes are related specifically to salt. Rather, the diseases new regulations are being put in place to combat are a result of America’s dependence on processed food and all of the shit that goes into it.
We should be cooking our own fresh food, salting to taste, and being more physically active before and after we stuff our faces. Yes, that’s very easy to say, but it’s harder to get up the gumption to get into the kitchen, or out into the world from some exercise.
The fact is, I want to have a choice to go down to the store and buy a salty box of snack crackers I can eat while vegetating my way through a three hour "Weeds" marathon. I should, in fact, be able to make that choice. I do not want the government making my convenience food taste any more like ass than it already does.
Still, all things in moderation. Salt isn’t the enemy… Laziness is. Unfortunately, until there is a cure for the convenience-sickness plaguing our nation, the Government will continue to legislate our food into a bland mass.
Me? I’ll be in the kitchen with my tiny jar of truffle salt, gleefully seasoning, maybe even over-salting my food. Happily, the feds have no jurisdiction over my stove. They can have my salt shaker when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!
Pass the salt, Blogtownies.