With an April report from the Institute of Medicine urging the FDA to revisit sodium’s “generally recognized as safe” status, self-anointed food cops are hoping that strict regulations on salt are just around the corner. We’ve been skeptical of this salt assault, which is 30 years in the making for the culinary nags at the Center for the Science in the Public Interest. And this week, the ingredient control freaks took a blow. On Wednesday, UC-Davis professor David McCarron hit the pages of Canada’s Financial Post to warn against salt scaremongering. McCarron should know—he authored a study last fall that found salt intake is naturally regulated by human appetite, making government regulations potentially redundant. But, McCarron writes, shaky science about our shakers hasn’t stopped food-policing zealots like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Thomas Frieden from pushing “linear and simplistic” reasoning:
[A]s New York’s health commissioner, Dr. Frieden determined that if New Yorkers could not make the choice to lower salt intake on their own, he would make it for them. Dr. Frieden’s “low salt for all New Yorkers” legacy now threatens all Americans and by extension Canadians. Frieden is employing an approach he championed in New York where his office chose to use “public pressure …and publicity” rather than available science.
Why should we all be concerned? If a high-ranking public health expert cannot get the science surrounding the salt shaker correct, then one can only imagine where a country’s future health-care dollars will be spent, when the science is more complex. Frieden’s assumption underlying his plans first for New York and now the entire nation is simple — too simple!...
The data suggest what the experts have never considered: Salt intake is regulated within a relatively narrow range by highly sophisticated internal circuits. These communications between the brain and multiple critical organs cannot be modified by public health policies; they respond only to our bodies’ internal signals such that actual salt consumption varies little regardless of the sodium content of the food supply. In the case of our data it was true across multiple cultures, each with a unique food environment.
McCarron ends with a call for an international science-based trial to test the growing evidence that salt intake is naturally regulated.
Imagine that! Could the Scientific Method once again become more important than activist politics?