Filed Under: Food Police

Year in Review: Salt

2011 proved to be a very active year for the issue of salt. Last year, we saw New York City’s meddlesome bureaucracy announce a “voluntary” campaign to reduce sodium in food (though not the mayor’s plate, apparently). But it appears this mineral will be vindicated.

The hyperbolic Center for Science in the Public Interest had called salt the “deadly white powder you already snort.” And public health activists from the Institute of Medicine to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg picked it up and ran with CSPI’s alarmist “salt kills” banner.  New York City health officials even went so far as to claim only one in five adult New Yorkers keep their salt consumption within the recommended range.

However, it turns out that the “recommended range” may be flawed. A European study released in May discovered decreased salt intake was associated with a higher rate of heart-attack deaths. Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension who has called the New York City salt-reduction attempts “an experiment on a whole population,” must be feeling justified.

The salt police weren’t ready to listen, though, and doubled down. In August, public health activists in the British Medical Journal called for a global campaign to reduce salt consumption. Their commentary was based on how salt consumption could be reduced, not whether it needed to be reduced.

Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t great timing. The aforementioned study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that the cardiovascular death rate was highest among those who ate less salt. And just a month before the salt police’s proposal, a Cochrane Collaborative review determined that even a 50 percent reduction in salt consumption was not associated with a significant decrease in cardiovascular disease or death risk.

By late 2011, however, salt skepticism finally got the attention it deserved. One notable review of 167 studies found that some people on lower-sodium diets had a 2.5 percent increase in cholesterol and a 7 percent increase in blood triglycerides (factors which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease). The results led one researcher to tell WebMD, “On the contrary the net effect [of a restricted-salt diet] may be harmful.” Maybe Michael Bloomberg has been in on the joke all along.

The evidence is clear – salt isn’t the “deadly white powder” that the food police think it is. But will the feds get the memo in 2012?

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