Rethinking Healthcare

They came for my salt shaker and then my sugar bowl

Posting in Food

Eighty percent of the salt we consume is put in by factories.

To hear some bloggers tell it, government brownshirts are trying to stop you from eating life-giving salt. It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

Uh, no.

What has happened is that the Institute of Medicine, a non-profit group that advises the government and is descended from an 1863 charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln, has sent the FDA a report on how to reduce salt intake. (The chart above is from the study.)

The report says we should be consuming 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, which most women and children were doing in the early 1970s. But that consumption has now risen to about 3,000 milligrams for women and children, and nearly 4,500 milligrams for men. Per day.

The report then suggests a gradual, 10 year program to reduce this, working with the processed food industries that hide salt in just about everything because it's cheap and tastes good. By limiting what they can put in, you get more control.

The FDA already has a page on its Web site warning about salt, showing a salt shaker. It accepted the report and said it would work on ways to implement the recommendation.

But there's a problem. Salt is not classed as a food additive. It's generally considered safe. And it is, until you overdo it. We're talking about the difference between salting a chicken broth so it tastes better and feeding people sea water that will kill them because it has too much salt in it.

What groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which first sued to regulate salt in foods back in 2005, want is a gradual program that would set mandatory limits on salt in manufactured foods that would decline gradually until people get used to food that tastes like food instead of salt. The group notes 80% of the salt we consume is put in by factories.

Things like microwaved macaroni-and-cheese, hot dogs, instant noodles and TV dinners have from half-to-all your daily recommended salt intake, per serving, and mandating cuts would be worthwhile, the group says.

Well you would think the stormtroopers were marching into homes and seizing salt shakers. Nanny state gone wild, thundered Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty.

In fact we're talking about just the reverse. Liberty is an individual right, not a corporate right. No one is talking about seizing salt shakers. They're talking about telling food manufacturers when the salt level they're sticking in their products is unhealthy.

The FDA dates from a 1906 Act of Congress signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, precisely to forbid the manufacture of adulterated food products. Adding excessive salt to food is adulterating it.

In my opinion confusion of the rights of man with the rights of corporations is behind a lot of the stupidity we face every day.

But let's put down the salt shakers a moment.

Let's talk about your sugar bowl.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the same thing that's happened with salt has also happened with sugar, and as a result we may be eating up to 46 teaspoons of it a day without realizing it.

The result isn't just obesity. It's also causing diabetes, gum disease, tooth decay and (yes) high cholesterol. Again, this is sugar coming from manufactured goods -- fast food, packages you buy in the store.

You have a right to stuff your face with salt and sugar until you burst. But you should also be able to know that you're doing it. Corporations aren't telling you, they're not giving you the choice. Government is being urged to tackle the corporations so you can have the choice.

If that's communism, call me a communist. But wouldn't you rather be a live communist than a dead corporatist?

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure