U.S. Government Weaning Us From Salt?

salt-morton-kosherThe Feds are telling going to limit the amount of salt that can be in processed foods, literally ranging from soup to nuts.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The legal limits would be open to public comment, but administration officials do not think they need additional authority from Congress.

Kevin Drum is pleased.

I am so in favor of this. It’s sort of like the Do Not Call list: I don’t really care about ideology here, and I don’t really care if this is nanny statism or government overreach or anything else. I’m just totally in favor. And you know what? By the time this is done, my guess is that nobody will even remember a difference. They’ll just be eating healthier food that tastes better and doesn’t cause as many strokes or heart attacks. Three cheers for the FDA.

While we agree on the Do Not Call list, I’m a little queasy about this one.   The policy outcome is probably a good one.  Restaurant food, in particular, is often so overly salted as to be virtually inedible.

I don’t have any strong ideological objection to the government involving itself in this issue, given the very real health risks of too much sodium in the American diet.  I favor labeling requirements and education on this topic.

I’m less sanguine, though, about restricting the sale of, say, high salt peanuts.  If, say, Planters wants to put out a high-salt variety and consumers are willing to take the long-term health risks because, damn it, they really like salty peanuts, then I can’t see a rationale for government to stop that transaction.

And I’m not at all sure why the president and the FDA get to make such an important decision.  This strikes me as intrusive enough that Congress should have to get involved directly.  I don’t mind deferring to the FDA’s expertise — or its ability to work with industry — to set specific levels of sodium.  But Congress should pass a law outlining the broader principle.

Further, ideology aside, there’s something vaguely creepy about the Federal government trying to alter the citizenry’s taste for salt.  It’s hard to imagine anything more intrusive than that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Restaurant food, in particular, is often so overly salted as to be virtually inedible.

    Man, choose better restaurants.

    My personal technique is to choose 1st generation immigrant restaurants (usually in strip-malls, as recognized by Tyler Cowen (are you close enough to try his guide?)). My personal goal is to have the only table that is not the ethnicity of the restaurant. For instance, at a Korean restaurant I want everyone else to be Korean, or at a Guatemalan restaurant I want everyone else to be Guatemalan.

    I have no idea what that ethnic dining does to my salt intake. If I’m 50% below McDonalds or whatever, maybe there is some room for McDonalds to get in line …

    but to be honest I’ve always been skeptical that there is a general “salt problem.”

  2. john personna says:

    BTW, there is a shopping center in Orange County that is sooo Chinese that an ex-officer told me that the police are never called. The triads take care of everything. That is so old-world that I love it, at least in daylight.

    My co-workers and I are currently on a methodical mission to try every restaurant in the square, going clockwise 😉

  3. floyd says:

    “”I don’t really care about ideology here, and I don’t really care if this is nanny statism or government overreach or anything else. I’m just totally in favor.””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Boy does he ever hit the nail on the head!
    Unfortunately,as he demonstrates here, ALL he really cares about is ideology.
    .

  4. Franklin says:

    I have to admit, it would consume a large percentage of your day to analyze every food you eat for every possible bad thing that can be in it. So in a sense, I don’t mind someone else, even the government, looking out for these things.

    But isn’t there some other way to warn us without actually making it ILLEGAL? That’s my problem here. Like James said, if Planters wants to make a jar of nuts called “Extra Salty Nuts”, isn’t that pretty fair warning?

    In any case, salt isn’t even on the same magnitude of a problem as added sweeteners. Why not limit those first?

  5. Highlander says:

    I have a serious heart condition, and as consequence, I don’t use salt at all. My diet is 75% salads and nuts. I haven’t been in a fast food restaurant in years.

    But I’ll be DAMNED,if I want some federal bureaucrat determining for me, what the salt availability should be in my life!

    What will be next? Perhaps telling us how deeply we can breathe,due to supposed “Global Warming”( Which in my opinion, is a scam to enable Goldman Sachs to securitize,and then sell us the very air we breathe).

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Yes, it’s creepy because salt is a necessary staple, without which you’ll die. Some people will gain weight or suffer hormonal imbalances from drastic reductions in salt. If you’re doing significant cardiovascular exercise, you might need salt supplements.

    None of which is to claim that Americans on average could not use to reduce their salt. It’s simply creepy to think the government knows what is best for all the variety of homo sapiens.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Man, choose better restaurants.

    Nah, I’m eating at pretty good places.

    My wife frequently orders fish, since I don’t much care for it and thus seldom cook it at home, and it’s almost invariably oversalted.

    I tend to have good luck with steaks, although occasionally I’ll get one that’s been marinated in a particularly salty solution or that has a too-salty sauce on it.

    I hardly use salt in cooking. A box of kosher salt, which I primarily use for grilled meats, will last me two years or so and I go through a container of Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt maybe every six months.

  8. john personna says:

    Well, if I was out there I’d try some of Cowen’s stip-mall joints. We have food-blogs that cover OC pretty well. I take some pride that I can say “been there” to many of their reviews.

    (Heh, I was just at Nice Time Deli a couple days ago.)

  9. Ugh says:

    Further, ideology aside, there’s something vaguely creepy about the Federal government trying to alter the citizenry’s taste for salt. It’s hard to imagine anything more intrusive than that.

    Well there’s that whole DOMA thing, and DADT, and assorted benefits/deteriments granted/imposed based on whether you’re married or not. Seems kind of more intrusive than regulating salt content, which one can always alter with that whole shaker thing.

  10. Dantheman says:

    “Well there’s that whole DOMA thing, and DADT, and assorted benefits/deteriments granted/imposed based on whether you’re married or not.”

    And of course, there’s always calling Congress into special session to pass a bill to overrule state courts on whether someone is in a vegetative state.

  11. James Joyner says:

    Well there’s that whole DOMA thing, and DADT, and assorted benefits/deteriments granted/imposed based on whether you’re married or not. Seems kind of more intrusive than regulating salt content,

    I’m opposed to all that but it’s of a different piece. Those are examples of government policies on conferring benefits or hiring employees.

    Trying to change people’s brain wiring for food preferences is a whole different level of personal.

  12. anjin-san says:

    So James, if, years from now your health is shot because of a poor diet you are going to decline any government $$$ to pay for your health care? Having uncle pick up that tab seems pretty intrusive.

  13. Ugh says:

    I don’t know James, seems to me if you asked, say, Andrew Sullivan (to just pick an obvious example) whether he thought DOMA/DADT/assorted other benefits granted to heterosexual married couples that are denied to him and his were more personal than slowly adjusting the amount of salt in American’s food (in coordination with industry), I hardly think he would say the latter.

    Further, they’re going to do this in a manner that people barely notice (and if they do notice, they can fix it). I guess maybe I would agree that this is “creepy,” but it seems less personal than these other things (and even then, hard to be too “creepy” if the gov’t announces what it is doing).

  14. James Joyner says:

    So James, if, years from now your health is shot because of a poor diet you are going to decline any government $$$ to pay for your health care? Having uncle pick up that tab seems pretty intrusive.

    I don’t have any real choice but to use Medicaid later in life because government has forced me to pay for it and forced me off my regular insurance once I become eligible. But how’s it “intrusive” to have my insurance provider pay the bills when I’ve spent decades paying for said insurance?

  15. James Joyner says:

    I don’t know James, seems to me if you asked, say, Andrew Sullivan (to just pick an obvious example) whether he thought DOMA/DADT/assorted other benefits granted to heterosexual married couples that are denied to him and his were more personal

    Right…

    But, again, that’s a case of government privileging certain behavior. Government isn’t trying to slowly convince Sully to become sexually aroused at the sight of female parts or to diminish his attraction to males through subtle manipulation.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    How is the argument for slowly reducing sodium levels in various foods any different than having the government slowly reduce the alcohol levels in beer? After all, people don’t really need a beer that has 5% ABV, and there are external costs from alcohol consumption. Never mind that people are different biologically, and that such artificial constraints are easily bypassed by consuming more.

  17. john personna says:

    I don’t have any real choice but to use Medicaid later in life because government has forced me to pay for it and forced me off my regular insurance once I become eligible. But how’s it “intrusive” to have my insurance provider pay the bills when I’ve spent decades paying for said insurance?

    Are you really confident (john says, in his bbc voice) that your Medicaid will not come from the general fund?

  18. James Joyner says:

    Are you really confident (john says, in his bbc voice) that your Medicaid will not come from the general fund?

    All the money’s general fund at the end of the day. But it’s a mandatory buy-in system.

  19. c.red says:

    We’ll have to see how this is enacted. I don’t see any real difference between this and adding Fluoride to drinking water or regulating lead/mercury levels in potable water.

    I don’t see any particular mention of criminalizing salty food, but I could see them requiring that ‘Extra-Salty’ label and possibly a warning label about high sodium levels. Restaraunts are trickier, but if the processed food contents go down then restaraunts will probably have to follow to keep customers.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    By the way, here is a recent concensus of the effect of salt restrictions on diet:

    It was agreed that sodium restriction is likely to be most beneficial for older persons with established hypertension; that the results of the randomized, controlled trials of sodium reduction show only a minimal effect on blood pressure in the general population; and that only a minority of the US population is sensitive to the hypertensive effects of sodium. Independent statistics experts reported that the Intersalt analyses are inappropriate for arguing that a reduction in salt intake would reduce the rate of increase in blood pressure with age—the argument consistently used by the advocates of sodium chloride restriction. Furthermore, it was pointed out that mineral deficiency likely accounts for much of the sensitivity to sodium, and that a nutrient-complete diet, ie, the DASH diet, can produce far greater blood pressure improvements than can be achieved with sodium restriction. Finally, it was acknowledged that there may be adverse effects associated with reduced sodium intake and that there is little evidence that lowering sodium intake will improve cardiovascular outcomes.

    the National Institutes of Health Workshop on Sodium and Blood Pressure

  21. SoFedUp says:

    The only time I have ever noticed food being overly salty in a restaurant is at Macaroni Grill. I have never ordered anything there that wasn’t almost inedible, due to being overly salted. The solution to this was easy. I now refuse to eat at Macaroni Grill. Ever. Problem solved.

  22. floyd says:

    Anjin-san;
    So you want to force people at gun point to buy something; then call them hypocritical if they use what they paid for?
    Or is it just that the whole point of government provided healthcare is to micromanage people’s lives?

  23. Pretty soon they’ll be rattling on about chocolate rations.

  24. john personna says:

    All the money’s general fund at the end of the day. But it’s a mandatory buy-in system.

    These are the two important sides to the Medi* and Social Security coins. To the extent that they are self-funding they are like mandatory insurance. To the extent that they draw from general funds they are just another government service/benefit.

    We can do cash-accounting across all those entities, and their reserves, sure. But if we can, shouldn’t that stop people from saying “I paid for my Social Security and Medi*?”

    You didn’t pay, enough. On a net-net, the federal government is in debt.

  25. JKB says:

    Notice they are designed to ratchet down sodium consumption with nary a thought to taste, preservation, or food quality. Of course, all prohibitions fail although not without huge loss of life and massive corruption, e.g., Prohibition and the Drug War. But there is also opportunity for profit in an unregulated black market for edible food stuffs after they impose their foolish ideas by government fiat.

  26. Trumwill says:

    So James, if, years from now your health is shot because of a poor diet you are going to decline any government $$$ to pay for your health care? Having uncle pick up that tab seems pretty intrusive.

    So wait… government-funded and government-provided health care really is about freedom then? I thought we were supposed to laugh and roll our eyes at people that made such claims…

    Okay, to turn the snark off, as someone that believes that the government should be taking a larger role in health care, arguments like this really do put me ill-at-ease. It lends credence that if you want the government out of your life then you need to oppose it doing things for its citizenry.

  27. TangoMan says:

    I don’t have any strong ideological objection to the government involving itself in this issue, given the very real health risks of too much sodium in the American diet. I favor labeling requirements and education on this topic.

    I see that PD Shaw has already hit on this topic. Below is a selection from his quote:

    and that only a minority of the US population is sensitive to the hypertensive effects of sodium.

    You see, that’s true as far as it goes, but such a general statement is less informative than a more specific statement, such as this:

    In the kidney, CYP3A5 acts to retain salt. One version of this gene, however, a mutation known as CYP3A5 *3, produces a truncated, non-functional protein.

    The researchers looked at variations of this gene in 1,064 individuals drawn from 52 populations scattered around the world. The mutation was least common in some natives of sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from a low of only 6 percent of Yorubans in Nigeria (Latitude 8ºN) to 31 percent among the Mandenka of Senegal (12ºN). Rates were higher among populations in East Asia, ranging from 55 percent among the Dai of China (21ºN) to 75 percent among Han Chinese (32ºN) to 77 percent among Japanese (38ºN) and 95 percent among the Uygur of China (44ºN).

    Rates in Europe were uniformly high, ranging from 80 to 95 percent in Italy, France and Russia. The highest rate, 96 percent, was found among the Basque, an isolated ethnic group of uncertain origins now concentrated in the Pyrenees Mountains (43ºN).

    The correlation between distance from the equator and CYP3A5 *3 was maintained when the focus was narrowed to 18 East Asian populations spread out over 51 degrees of latitude.

    The researchers found one other gene, for a hormone called AGT (angiotensin) that followed a similar distribution pattern, with different versions that correlated with distance from the equator. AGT also is involved in salt retention and has been associated with hypertension and pre-eclampsia, a complication of pregnancy. One variation of this gene, known as AGT M235, was closely correlated with CYP3A5 *3.

    This correlation of two unlinked gene variants with similar effects “is remarkable,” the authors note, “and suggests a shared selective pressure.”

    When the government acts on the basis of a creationist belief set, then they develop policies which are overly broads in situations that call for policies which are more narrowly targeted. Hypertension rates vary enormously by individuals and by race. Some Caucasians suffer from hypertension and will benefit tremendously by a reduction in their salt intake. For most Caucasians the health benefit of reduced salt intake is extremely difficult to quantify. On the other hand, while some African Americans individuals are not hypertensive, the proportion of hypertensive Africa Americans is far, far larger than the proportion seen in the Caucasian population.

    If it is too difficult for hypertensive individuals, regardless of race, to monitor and control their salt intake, then the next best filter for measures to control salt intake is race. There are a number of studies which show that the health benefits of a concerted effort to reduce salt intake across a large & diverse population are minimal and difficult to measure.

    What the government is proposing here is the same as advocating a reduction in lactose-present foods because some of the population is lactose-intolerant.

    The best course of action is to design outreach programs for populations and individuals that are at risk from hypertension.

  28. Salt is among the most important minerals supporting our lives and health!

    The importance of salt in our lives cannot be overstated. Without salt, our bodies cannot perform some of the vital functions like regulating blood and body fluids and maintaining nerve signals. Salt deficiency leads to muscular weakness, cramps and exhaustion.

    Severe salt deprivation can even prove fatal.

    Salt sets off an osmosis movement in the body and adjusts the amount of fluids within and outside the cells. A healthy body processes the amount of salt it needs, and expels the rest through the kidneys.

    The two elements of salt — sodium and chloride — play a vital role in body functions.

    Sodium helps in sending messages to and from the brain, regulates the body fluids and helps our muscles
    including those of the heart to contract.

    Chloride preserves the acid-base balance of the body, absorbs potassium and helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide from respiratory tissues to the lungs.

    To Learn More Go To
    http://www.realsalts.com/faq.html

  29. Drew says:

    The word is already out. Possession of Gatorade with intent to consume is good for 3-5 in the slammer.

    Fritos got off light. First time probation. Second time 1 yr. Good lobbyists I guess.
    Pretzels: 20 to life.

    But are you sitting down? Salted margaritas: death.

    Said the HHS Secretary: “I know its a harsh sentence, but we have to protect these people, they might die if we don’t.”

  30. Matt says:

    Seriously? You can always add more salt.. Reducing salt in served and pre-packaged foods doesn’t prevent you from eating super-salty foods – it just means you have to reach for the salt-shaker. Trying to portray this as anything sinister is just plain stupid.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Trying to change people’s brain wiring for food preferences is a whole different level of personal.

    Perhaps its a different kind of personal because it would affect you. If you were gay, and hence a second class citizen because of government rules that dictate who you can marry and what careers you can and can’t have, you might take that personally.

  32. anjin-san says:

    So you want to force people at gun point to buy something

    Tell me Floyd, do you by chance have any photos of people being forced to make said purchases at gunpoint? Because if you don’t, people might think you are a raging fruit loop…

  33. Gerry W. says:

    Well, here is something ironic. I am watching PBS Point of View POV. Now this is not about salt (so far) however, it is showing how we grow and raise food in our country. The big companies like Smithfield, Tyson, and Monsanto have huge chicken farms and beef farms. And everything is revolved around corn and growth hormones. The livestock is fed corn products. The hamburger you eat has corn in it. It is cheap and plentiful.

    So the government wants to come out and regulate the sugars, the fats, and the salt. But is it really the people’s fault. It is what the industry is doing to us. The USDA is a puppet of big industry. You had an official in the Bush White House who allowed these companies to take over everything with no rules.

    So in short, the government created the problem by supporting big companies, and it is blaming the people who eat all this processed food. And now they want to regulate bad food, in which, they support in the first place.

  34. “Posted by anjin-san:
    Well, here is something ironic. I am watching PBS Point of View POV. Now this is not about salt (so far) however, it is showing how we grow and raise food in our country. The big companies like Smithfield, Tyson, and Monsanto have huge chicken farms and beef farms. And everything is revolved around corn and growth hormones. The livestock is fed corn products. The hamburger you eat has corn in it. It is cheap and plentiful.
    So the government wants to come out and regulate the sugars, the fats, and the salt. But is it really the people’s fault. It is what the industry is doing to us. The USDA is a puppet of big industry. You had an official in the Bush White House who allowed these companies to take over everything with no rules.
    So in short, the government created the problem by supporting big companies, and it is blaming the people who eat all this processed food. And now they want to regulate bad food, in which, they support in the first place.”

    Anjin-san, you hit the nail on the head.
    It could not be worded better!!!!!
    They don’t care what they are feeding or selling you. It is all about money and product that they can produce and convince you to buy; regardless of what it is doing to you or your family.
    The cheaper they can produce it then the more they will sell. The more power they have behind them, the more they sell. It is killing the American farmer.
    Look at Dole. You think you are eating a “local” product? Only if Peru is local.
    Just an example. Go ahead, Google it.
    Sure, it is convenient and cheap for you, but ask yourself, do I want to eat healthy or eat conveniently?

    http://www.circlenatural.com

  35. Gerry W. says:

    I had asked my cousin who has a farm why he doesn’t have animals as they did before. And he said the market is controlled, and the small farmer can only grow grain products.

    The documentary on POV is called “Food Inc.

    http://www.pbs.org/pov/

    They will probably have it archived soon.

    And this falls in line with an article that I may have posted on another thread on the mergers and consolidation of companies as we lose the jobs.

    http://growth.newamerica.net/publications/articles/2010/who_broke_america_s_jobs_machine_27941

    Now we are seeing the threat of big business and why we used to have laws and a middle class. Not anymore. It is all money.

  36. Gerry W. says:

    Reality is starting to set in on the republican party. It is cheap labor, sending our jobs overseas, big business and holding people hostages to their shenanigans, and also the military industrial complex. All in all, it will ruin our country or at least the middle class. The controlling of food and whatever else will create some sort of catastrophe at some point. People do not know what they are eating. It is harder to control salmonella and other diseases. The problems effects our food, our water, our soil, farmers, cheap labor, and illegals. They showed chickens so fat that they could not walk. They fall over backward and die in the big chicken farms. And cows with stomachs full poisons because of being grain fed. And a slaughter house with illegals. And you can bet there is a lot of lobbying going on. And one farmer wanted to contest one big company and it cost him 25 thousand dollars without being able to go to court and he lost the battle.

    So it is so funny, when republicans shout freedom and their own party creates these problems. This is becoming a land of the rich and the poor.

  37. anjin-san says:

    Gerry raises some good points. It is interesting that so many folks don’t seem to mind that the corporations that control the food supply in this country have programmed everyone to eat garbage that ruins their health, or that the animals that become food are basically tortured while they are alive.

    .

  38. Matt says:

    Lot of the people I grew up with as a farmer are now out of the business and hardly anyone raises animals for anything outside of shows and personal use..

  39. A few workers in our area got Salmonella poisoning. It is a good thing that they did not die and they have fully recovered. ‘