Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Get a fact-checker!

The nutrition nannies at the gratuitously-self-named Center for Science in the Public Interest are at it again. Denied in court, they today petitioned the FDA to declare that salt should forfeit its "Generally Recognized As Safe" status and that food manufacturers should use less of it in the foods they make. The petition doesn't pass the sniff test. It badly needed a fact-checker. I opened the petition randomly and didnt' have to read beyond the first paragraph to find an error. There were plenty more. But worse, CSPI persists in trying to foist off extrapolations and projections in the place of data. They allege salt is killing 150,000 people a year (nearly four times the number that die in traffic crashes and 75 times more than the number of Americans killed in Iraq since Sadaam's fall). The huge number is a statistical construction based on blood pressure only and ignores the fact that lowering dietary salt has other impacts -- No, not just that the food tastes bad. The other impacts of lowering dietary salt are that it triggers the production of the kidney hormone renin, it activates the sympathetic nervous system and it increases insulin resistance, a key risk factor for diabetes. What we need to look at is the NET EFFECT of lowering dietary sodium. Will it make people healthier or not? If so, then we should address the very real problems of implementing such a change with food manufacturers and try to convince the public to forego their salt. But in the absence of evidence of harm, why expend all these resources? In fact, the evidence shows no benefit and some studies even show people on low-sodium diets suffer more heart attacks and die more often -- not a figure you'll find in the CSPI petition. See the Salt Institute's compilation of the medical studies. For reference: the CSPI petition.

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