Patterico's Pontifications


The Salt Debate

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 8:48 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Is salt as bad for us as scientists and doctors say? Some say Yes and some say No:

“Dr. McCarron and his colleagues analyzed surveys from 33 countries around the world and reported that, despite wide differences in diet and culture, people generally consumed about the same amount of salt. There were a few exceptions, like tribes isolated in the Amazon and Africa, but the vast majority of people ate more salt than recommended in the current American dietary guidelines.

The results were so similar in so many places that Dr. McCarron hypothesized that networks in the brain regulate sodium appetite so that people consume a set daily level of salt. If so, that might help explain one apparent paradox related to reports that Americans are consuming more daily calories than they used to. Extra food would be expected to come with additional salt, yet there has not been a clear upward trend in daily salt consumption evident over the years in urinalysis studies, which are considered the best gauge because they directly measure salt levels instead of relying on estimates based on people’s recollections of what they ate. Why no extra salt? One prominent advocate of salt reduction, Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins University, said that inconsistent techniques in conducting the urinalysis surveys may be masking a real upward trend in salt consumption.

But Dr. McCarron called the measurements reliable and said they could be explained by the set-point theory:

As Americans ate more calories, they could have eased up on some of the saltier choices so that their overall sodium consumption remained constant. By that same logic, he speculated, if future policies reduce the average amount of salt in food, people might compensate by seeking out saltier foods — or by simply eating still more of everything.”

Salt skeptics want “a rigorous test of the low-salt diet in a randomized clinical trial.” Salt reformers say testing is unnecessary and “too time-consuming and expensive.”

This debate sounds familiar, doesn’t it?


19 Responses to “The Salt Debate”

  1. Three specific things have been demonized forever, with almost no actual proof of human harm: caffeine, salt, artificial sweeteners.

    *assuming not extreme intake

    Ed from SFV (f6a87d)

  2. i don;t know why this was posted…. the science is settled.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  3. I like salt on salads sometimes which people think is weird but I got it from when I was little our youth group at the church went to this lady’s house who did a for reals passover dinner for us. So there’s this part you have to have a “bitter herb” and so what she gave us was salted lettuce and spinach. Just cold with a little vinegar.

    It was very tasty I thought.

    happyfeet (713679)

  4. i thought it was supposed to be parsley?

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  5. A tangentially related story: Call to change the shape of hotdogs

    It seems hotdogs are a choking hazard, and some group is calling for their redesign.

    Some chump (050674)

  6. I remember she said she improvised. Like maybe she’d forgotten something at the store.

    happyfeet (713679)

  7. Is salt as bad for us as scientists and doctors say? Some say Yes and some say No:

    I, for one, reject the false choice between too much salt and too little.

    B Obama (4eaf13)

  8. Do fish suffer from high blood pressure?
    Why not, they obviously get too much salt (we’re snarking about blue-water fish here).

    AD - RtR/OS! (93f531)

  9. Some of us don’t have the genetics for high blood pressure due to sodium – rather, if we don’t get enough salt (or other sodium source) in our diet, we can show signs similar to heat prostration, *low* blood pressure, etc … in the heat of summer, I add salt to food when my body signals that it’s needed by my response ot the food’s flavours … in winter, I seldom add salt …

    This one-size-fits-all concensus is NOT a healthy path for many of us … and it certainly isn’t scientific …

    Alasdair (205079)

  10. (sigh) … to …

    Alasdair (205079)

  11. Salt is one of the four main food groups, the others being sugar, caffeine and cholesterol.

    On the very first episode of Star Trek, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise encountered a creature which killed by sucking all of the salt from the victim’s body. That, in itself, is clear proof that we need salt!

    The nutriionist Dana (3e4784)

  12. We Africans love salt in our meals. We must be the highest salt consuming continent on the planet. Practically everything we eat is seasoned with salt. This may also be why we are more prone to ailments like high blood pressure & the like. But hey, we are all going to die of something, aren’t we? 🙂

    Nigerian Observer (d50769)

  13. Rarely do they admit that there is anything they don’t know. A little more scientific and medical modesty would be appreciated.

    Amphipolis (b120ce)

  14. Salt is a poison. I think the EPA should get on that, clean up the oceans and all.

    Also, people who losen salt shakers at the Denny’s near me should go to GITMO.

    Just saying. Salt terrorism is EVIL.

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    Vivian Louise (eeeb3a)

  15. Salt to taste.

    How did life on Earth survive all these billions of years without nutrition experts, BTW?

    nk (db4a41)

  16. In the final episode to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, a planet sends off its worthless drones in a spaceship to an indefinite journey. Could we find a way to do this to the food morons?

    nk (db4a41)

  17. Pat

    You have been to Virginia of course. Isn’t a Virginia ham the best?

    When my wife cooks a cured ham, it’s edible at the sideboard for at least a week. Sounds unsafe today, but really good.

    You can’t do that with a Maryland crab (but they are so good, too, fried).

    Salt would not help.

    Greg (6a3c55)

  18. I thought the original salt study was based on some strange rice only diet that was so different from a normal diet that the fact that it was low sodium really proves nothing. And the proponents have been sticking to the we don’t need no more studies theme ever since.

    agesilaus (9274e7)

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