FoodPolitik: Food cops have sour prescription for our diets

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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There are two things that will make finger-wagging food cops go ballistic: sugar and salt. They may not use unnecessary force if you violate their food “laws,” but they do create unnecessary hysteria and, even worse, unnecessary regulation.

For years, the food police have been warning that salt (of all things) is a silent killer. And now, based on a new move by U.S. government agencies, our food could soon be a little blander at their behest.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened a formal docket requesting comments on how to achieve salt reduction goals — an open-ended question that invites proposals for federal salt control.

As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, activists across the pond recently supported in the respected British Medical Journal a global campaign to curb salt consumption.

Common to a theme among the anti-salt blowhards is that it’s not a question of “whether” we should reduce our salt intake, but “how.” Their wild claims of salt dangers, however, should be taken with a grain of it.

In May, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, among 3,700 subjects studied over time, the cardiovascular death rate was highest among those who ate less salt. (RELATED: FoodPolitik: Arm yourself against charity scams)

And in July, a review determined that even a 50 percent salt reduction is not associated with a significant decrease in heart disease. (In fact, salt reduction amongst people already diagnosed with heart failure is associated with a higher risk of death, the researchers reported.)

Starting to get the picture? The supposed “consensus” (where have we heard that before?) isn’t actually that solid. Epidemiology and medicine professor Michael Alderman has pointed out that the science is not settled, and calls government-imposed salt reduction an “experiment on a whole population.”

And to the food cops, you’re the lab rat.

Much of the anti-salt hype is driven by those who ignore contradictory evidence or who have a long-standing agenda. Take the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a group which decades ago referred to salt as the “white powder you already snort.”

CSPI has a 30-year campaign to get the FDA to regulate and impose limits on salt, with its executive director making wild-eyed pronouncements such as “salt should be considered generally recognized as dangerous, not safe.”

CSPI’s skill at hyping the supposed dangers behind any tasty food or ingredient far exceeds its credibility at nutritional analysis. Just consider its campaigns against soft drinks.

Earlier this year, CSPI raised a ruckus that caramel coloring in soda could be carcinogenic. That’s true — but the real risk only comes if you drink roughly 1,000 cans a day.

Now CSPI has come out with a new campaign, only this one with a softer side. It’s called “Life’s Sweeter With Fewer Sugary Drinks.” Of course, by “fewer,” CSPI really means “none.” In announcing the new campaign, CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson ominously declared: “Not since the anti-tobacco campaigns has there been a product so worthy of a national health campaign.”

Yes, that’s right — the food police literally draw parallels between soda and tobacco. But sugary drinks aren’t the problem — overconsumption of food and beverages is. Plenty of slim people drink full-calorie soda, just as there are plenty of overweight folks who don’t drink any. The key is balancing calories in from food with the calories you burn through activity.

You might wonder, what does CSPI support?

Jacobson has said that “basically a wonderfully healthy diet” is akin to a peasant’s meal plan during the 1600s: “perhaps a pound of bread, a spud, and a couple of carrots per day.” Should anyone take these people seriously?