Government Restrictions on Salt Consumption May Cost Lives

Some government officials would like to curb salt consumption, even though such restrictions could increase death rates. “The Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines still consider salt Public Enemy No. 1, coming before fats, sugars and alcohol.” But “eating less salt can worsen health outcomes,” notes Gary Taubes in a New York Times op-ed.  (Taubes is a health policy researcher at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).  As he notes, four “studies — involving Type 1 diabetics, Type 2 diabetics, healthy Europeans and patients with chronic heart failure — reported that the people eating salt at the lower limit of normal were more likely to have heart disease than those eating smack in the middle of the normal range.”

“Eat-less-salt” campaigners like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Obama depict salt as a dietary bogeyman that increases mortality. But, as Howard Portnoy notes, recent scientific studies have debunked the premises of  “Michelle Obama’s war on salt.”  Portnoy cites a May 2011 study in the American Journal of Medicine. It showed that “too little dietary sodium increases your risk of dying from heart disease and that “lower excretions of sodium in the urine—which correlate directly with salt consumption—were associated with higher cardiovascular disease mortality. ” Portnoy also cited recent similar articles in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and the August 2011 issue of the American Journal of Hypertension. Daniel Compton discusses Bloomberg’s “initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods” and why it doesn’t make sense here.

Anti-salt propaganda led to a baseless lawsuit against Denny’s over salty food that was dismissed in November 2009.

FDA officials want to restrict the salt content of food, even though that could indirectly lead to increased obesity rates, more heart attacks, and “higher death rates among some individuals,” by making it harder to market low-fat foods. If salt levels are curbed, people will compensate by eating fattier food, since there seems to be a trade-off between salt and fat.

While the Agriculture Department is demonizing salt, it’s simultaneously subsidizing the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically connected agribusinesses.  The Obama Administration also spent $766,000 of your tax dollars to open an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C. , despite IHOP’s sugary fare. Inconsistencies abound in the federal government’s food nannyism.  It rejected a proposal to exclude sugar-sweetened drinks from the food stamp program. But the government earlier banned white potatoes from the federal WIC Program, under the theory that they aren’t healthy enough. (Potatoes are perfectly healthy: they have more Vitamin C than a banana or an apple, and contain all 8 amino acids, unlike most other staple foods like corn.) In short, the government does not know how to distinguish between “good” and “bad” foods.