Friday, June 18, 2010

Salt. The New Evil.

The USDA's draft dietary guidelines include a reduction in salt intake. According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of salt on a daily basis. The new dietary guidelines recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams per day (the current guidelines published in 2005 says 2,300 milligrams).

While I agree we could all likely do with a little less salt in our diet, I fear the consequences of labeling salt the new evil. Let us simply recall what happened when we named fat evil in the 80s. A huge influx of low-fat food hit the grocery store shelves. Most of it fake food, almost none of it food for you. But we were sold a story that low-fat meant you could eat it and it wouldn't make you fat. And we bought it. By the billions and billions. And, obesity trends track right along with the influx of low-fat foods. If you want to read more about that coincidence, click here.

I promise you there are people sitting in conference rooms right now deciding on which "Low Salt" label will appear on the front of food boxes. I give it 30 days before we see such labels on grocery store shelves.

Our bodies need some salt. Don't believe me, believe The Mayo Clinic. Because the creation of our dietary guidelines is a political process (yes, I'm sorry, too) and because salt doesn't have a hugely powerful and wealthy lobby, we could very well end up in a place where salt is blacklisted. Worse yet, we'll end up with a whole new industry of fake salts which are marketed as "much better" for us (I would wager there are food manufacturers also sitting around in conference rooms making up new snazzy names for the "Anti-Salt" products they are about to create).

Don't get me wrong, I think we should all reduce the salt in our diet. The best way to do so? Stop eating processed foods. The vast majority of salt in the American diet comes from fake foods sold in boxes and at fast food places. If the new dietary guidelines came out and said "Processed Foods: Used Sparingly" I suspect the salt problem would take care of itself.

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