A-salt-ing common decency

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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“Public health is everybody’s business,” read one poster at an obesity conference a few years ago. Or at least, it’s become the business of bureaucrats and politicians who are using “public health” as an excuse to push an array of proposals to regulate almost everything we eat and drink.

Their latest target? Salt.

Big Apple Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently promoted the city’s new “voluntary” (read: soon-to-be-mandatory) initiative asking companies to reduce the amount of salt in their foods. Not to be outdone, New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) introduced a bill to make it illegal—under threat of a $1,000 fine—for restaurants to add salt to dishes.

It’s hard to believe it’s come to this.

Anti-salt activists are driven in the first case by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which famously declared fettuccine alfredo a “heart attack on a plate.” As far back as the 1970s CSPI was calling salt “the deadly white powder you already snort.” Michael Jacobson, head naysayer at the center, recently deemed salt “the single most dangerous ingredient in the food supply.” (Gee, two years ago he seemed to think that was margarine and trans fats.)

These food cops think so little of us that we can’t be trusted with one of the most basic of seasonings. Just don’t ask them to eat their own advice—Mayor Bloomberg himself reportedly coats his own pizza with salt and pours so much on his popcorn that it’s mouth-burning.

Hizzoner Bloomberg likely understands—despite his public pronouncements—that a few extra grains of the white stuff aren’t necessarily bad for you. It’s a conclusion that more and more research is coming to as well.

Writing in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology last fall, a University of California-Davis professor found that the brain naturally regulates sodium intake. Have a salty lunch? Your appetite will naturally lead you to eat a less salty dinner.

But what about the supposedly rock-solid claim that lowering salt intake will boost heart health? A 2002 review of the evidence published in the prestigious British Medical Journal found, “It is unclear what effects a low sodium diet has on cardiovascular events and mortality.”

You’d think that Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, would of all people be supporting the New York salt shakedown to supposedly lower high blood pressure. But as he told the New York Daily News in January, the Big Apple’s effort to curb sodium consumption amounts to “an experiment on a whole population.”

Alderman bluntly concluded: “That’s not science.”

And not only are the unscientific proposals of the anti-salt crusaders a little, well, “shaky,” but there’s no telling what would happen under a mass reformulation of food.

New York Times science columnist John Tierney noted one theory last month that reducing salt could lead to accidental overeating. People could compensate for the less salty food by eating more to maintain the same level of sodium intake that they consumed before the recipe change.

It’s not so far-fetched. History is littered with examples of the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

And “good intentions” may lead to mandated sodium reductions. These ideas need to be subject to far more scrutiny. And definitely taken with a grain of … well, you get the picture.

Rick Berman is executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.