The breaking news out of Canada this morning was that the Canadian Government has disbanded the Health Canada Sodium Working Group , a full five years before it completed its program of tracking whether companies were reducing the level of salt in processed foods. In a stunning blow to Canada’s anti-salt zealots, it appears that someone may have asked for the actual evidence of benefit rather than simply accepting activist-driven overstatement.
This Canadian action follows those in the United Kingdom to abolish the dietary mandate of the FSA (Food Standards Agency), the government unit most actively involved in salt reduction advocacy.
Kudos to those governments that demand actual evidence before proceeding to provide solutions for which there are no problems. It’s time our health policies move away from ideology back to science, where they belong.
I always find it a bit strange to see the looks of disbelief on the faces of journalists when I tell them that lowering the salt content of foods will greatly increase the obesity epidemic. How can that be?
Well, it’s quite simple really. People will eat more food and ingest more calories just to satisfy their innate appetite for salt. We have decades of experience with animal feeding as a basis for this statement. If you’re freely feeding cattle expensive feed, you add more salt to satisfy their appetite and limit their intake. If you want them to eat more feed, you cut back on the salt.
For the skeptics out there, we have a great many examples which everyone can easily identify with. When we cut the nicotine out of cigarettes, people smoked far more; when we cut the sugar out of soft drinks, people swilled tons more low-cal beverages; when we cut the fat out of foods, people gorged themselves on low-fat, no-fat foods to such an extent, they ushered in the current obesity epidemic.
What do you possibly think people will do when they face a big bag of low-salt chips?
All the pharmacists out there should not be surprised in future when they come across a rash of doctors’ prescriptions from their obese patients – “Salt (generic sodium chloride), for control of obesity – shake on food as required.”
First of all, I am pleased that the dietary guidelines have finally begun to focus on whole foods and eating patterns rather than isolated nutrients. It’s a pity that it took the dietary guidelines 30 years and a public announcement by the Secretaries of Agriculture and HHS to state what grandma’s always said. I am also pleased that the Dietary Guidelines talk so highly about the Mediterranean eating pattern, which has been responsible for the excellent health statistics of that part of the world. What the dietary guidelines do not state, however, is that the levels of salt consumption in the Mediterranean diet are about 40% higher than in the US diet.
The new guidelines, if followed, will have significant unintended negative health consequences. A very recent Harvard study links low-salt diets to an increase in insulin resistance, the condition that is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. What’s more, many nutritionists predict the guidelines will worsen, not improve, the obesity crisis because people will consume more calories just to satisfy their innate salt appetite. Still other studies link lowered salt intakes to low-birth weights and cognition impairment in children and a greatly increased rate of falls and fractures among the elderly. (It is a standard practice in assisted living facilities to place all residents on low-salt diets – and the rates of falls and fractures in these assisted living facilities are three times as great as in the normal home environment.) Another recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by two renowned Harvard researchers demonstrates that while hypertension has increased among Americans over the last 40 years, sodium has remained virtually unchanged. These findings totally contradict the urban myth that assumes increasing salt intake is the main driver in population-wide hypertension. If, over the last four decades, high blood pressure increased significantly but salt consumption did not, then the two are not related. The Dietary Guidelines regarding salt are thus more a product of ideology rather than science. There is not a single scientific long-term study demonstrating that population-wide sodium reduction will lead to better overall health – on the contrary, there is considerable peer-reviewed clinical research that predicts several negative consequences, across all age groups. That is why the Salt Institute has, for many years, been the only organization that has repeatedly asked the Secretary HHS to support a large clinical trial that would show the health outcomes resulting from population-wide salt reduction. This request has always been refused. Because the Dietary Guidelines recommend a level of salt far lower than any other country in the world and lower than any period in recorded history, it effectively places the entire population into a massive clinical trial without our knowledge or without our consent.
Appenzell, Asiago, Brie, Gorgonzola, Camembert, Casciotta, Cheshire, Doppelrhamstufel, Stilton, Fontainebleau, Gloucester, Fontina, Neufchatel, Jarlsberg, Parmigiano Reggiano, Roquefort, Saint-Paulin, Vacherin-Fribourgeois – these are just a few of the thousands of cheeses produced around the world. Cheese is composed of the natural proteins and fat from the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep.
In some cases, a cheese may have a colorful and romantic history, such as the fabulous Italian Mozzarella di Bufala made from the milk of the water buffalo rather than from cow's milk. How on earth did Asian water buffalo get to Italy? Some say they were brought to Italy by the Goths during the migrations of the early medieval period, while others say that they were introduced by Normans from Sicily in the year 1000, and that traders from the Middle East originally introduced them into Sicily. Another theory is that water buffalo were brought from Mesopotamia into Italy by knights returning from the crusades. Whichever theory you ascribe to, one thing everyone can agree upon – the texture, aroma and creaminess of mozzarella from buffalo is incomparable and it’s all the result of the simple coagulation of the casein protein found in buffalo milk.
Natural cheeses are often cured in saturated salt brine. The salty brining solution removes excess water from the cheese and also helps to limit the growth of unwanted bacteria. Brine-cured cheeses have a slightly salty, savory flavor that is quite desirable in a great many cheeses, including Appenzeller, Asiago, Gouda and Parmesan. For other cheeses, such as Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola varieties, salt is an indispensible ingredient for the growth of the Penicillium mold that gives these cheeses their blue-veined appearance and characteristic flavor.
What was started as a means of preserving milk has evolved in to a class of products that is universally adored around the world. Cheese can be eaten by itself, with a glass of wine, with fresh or preserved fruit, honey or crackers - as a meal or an appetizer. Good cheese, made with real milk is not cheap, but it is, without doubt, one of humankind’s great inventions.
Cheese is so popular that the idea of making artificial imitation cheese, called cheese analogs, was inevitable. Cheese analogs are made most frequently from soybeans but also made from rice, yeast and other non-dairy ingredients. Because analog cheese is an entirely formulated product, it can have an unlimited shelf life, a decreased cost, any artificial color or flavor and any desired melting or stretching characteristics. It can even be made cholesterol-free. That’s simply because it is not cheese.
The latest development is reduced salt in cheese . This can be easily accomplished because, as mentioned, analog cheese is not cheese, so there is no need for curing and no need for natural fermentation. The typical ingredient listing for analog mozzarella are: water, vegetable oil, soya concentrate, salt, spirit vinegar, artificial flavor, lactic acid (dairy-free), xanthan gum, carrageenan and yeast extract. To make life simple, for the other varieties of analog cheese the ingredients and their order in the ingredient list is identical, except that colors may be added at the end – paprika for analog cheddar cheese, turmeric for analog edam and annatto for analog gouda . It’s like different varieties of PlayDough – just change the food colors!
By reducing salt, the vinegar, artificial flavor, lactic acid, xanthan gum, carrageenan and even the yeast extract may all move ahead on the ingredient list. Now, that’s progress!
Give me natural cheese any day of the week!
Montgomery county residents had a rude awakening this morning. After at least eight accidents occurred along the same stretch of the Capital Beltway , the Maryland State Highway Administration began to "aggressively investigate" what went wrong with pretreating the highway.
It turns out that a contractor pretreated the Beltway with the wrong chemical, making both the Inner and Outer Loops of the ring road that encircles Washington, DC a slippery and treacherous mess. The bridge decks between Bethesda and Silver Spring were the most slippery.
"We use salt brine. They used liquid magnesium combined with salt brine," said Maryland State Highway Administration Spokesman Dave Buck, describing the mistake.
Maryland highway crews corrected the situation by retreated with salt.
Hot on the heels of the report out of Harvard linking low-salt diets to an increase in insulin resistance for healthy people comes a major report from United Healthcare projecting an epidemic of diabetes by 2020. Widely covered in today's press , the report states that more than half of Americans will have diabetes or be pre-diabetic by 2020. This would add a cost of $3.35 trillion to the U.S. health care system if current trends go on unabated, according to analysis carried out by health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc .
The question is whether the authors of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines will have the gumption to admit their failure in accounting for all the scientific evidence available related to sodium and discard their planned recommendations for further population-wide salt reductions. Unfortunately, key members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Group , the Institute of Medicine , the CDC , the FDA and many municipal, state, and national government institutions are so committed to salt reduction programs, it will be interesting to see which of them, if any, will find the courage to reconsider their recommendations. Most notable among these is the self-proclaimed National Salt Reduction Initiative or NSRI, promoted by salt glutton Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Health Department . Perhaps if NSRI would be renamed "Initiative for Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, Obesity and other Troubles" or IDIOT, it would more closely represent its potential impact.
One thing the prevailing science tells us for certain - if policies to execute population-wide reductions in salt consumption are successful, we can fully expect a cascade of negative health epidemics, diabetes, obesity and heart failure representing only a few of them.
We have long believed that all the available evidence demonstrated a clear link between low-salt diets and insulin resistance, the condition that is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, the Salt Institute has published a Salt and Health Newsletter on that very subject. Insulin helps the body utilize a key energy source, blood glucose. When insulin is low or absent, cells cannot absorb glucose and the body starts to use fat as an alternative energy source. Insulin resistance leads to Type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by suppression of lipolysis (breakdown of fats) and poor regulation of energy intake in the liver, muscle, adipose tissue, and the central nervous system. It is also strongly associated with other components of poor health including dyslipidemia (an abnormal concentration of lipids in the blood), inflammation and hypertension, all leading to serious cardiovascular disease.
Dogmatic low-salt diet recommendations have ignored all the medical literature which warns that low salt intakes are associated with increased CVD deaths among those with CV conditions as well as those with elevated insulin resistance. Low-salt diets trigger production of other hormones and result in elevated aldosterone levels. Insulin resistance was always considered to be an unanticipated consequence of low salt intakes in humans and animals. Low-salt diets also increase sympathetic nerve activity and decrease tissue perfusions, two other factors contributing to insulin resistance.
The most recent research by investigators Rajesh Garg, Gordon Williams, Shelley Hurwitz, Nancy Brown, Paul Hopkins and Gail Adler from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Vanderbilt University and the University of Utah confirm this negative health impact resulting from low-salt diets. In their article entitled, "Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects ," published in the journal, Metabolism - Clinical and Experimental on November 1, 2010, they report on testing the low-salt/insulin resistance hypothesis in subjects that were healthy. These healthy individuals were tested after 7 days of a low salt diet (1.2 g salt/d) and 7 days of high-salt diet (9 g salt/d) in a random order. Insulin resistance was measured after each diet and compared statistically. There was no question that a low-salt diet was found to be significantly associated with an increase in insulin resistance, while the high salt diet showed no negative consequences.
It is time that the health authorities in this country, such as the National Institutes of Health , the Institute of Medicine , the CDC and the AMA pull their collective heads out of the sand (or wherever they have them lodged), stop acting like wannabe thoughtless consumer activists and start doing their jobs. Any policy related to salt and health in this country must be based upon real, verifiable, clinical evidence. Were not living in some place where a few zealots should be able to dictate health and diet policy based upon antiquated anti-industry ideology and a perverted sense of self-importance. This is not an intellectual banana republic. We have competent scientists and we have large bodies of evidence that have repeatedly demonstrated that the negative salt myth promulgated by our health institutions is baseless.
The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath states:
"I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."
It is time our medical authorities demonstrate the courage of their alleged convictions.
Following yesterday's blog, I just came across another article attributing "salt-sensitivity" to abnormally high levels of aldosterone . Admittedly, this research was carried out on mice, but their mamallian renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system works similarly to that of humans. The report states that mice lacking normal components of circadian clock controls (the 24-hour cycle of biochemical, physiological, or behavioral processes) show salt-sensitive hypertension due to the production of abnormally high levels of aldosterone by the adrenal glands. In fact, the authors recommend this to be a new hypertension risk factor in mice. Based upon the evidence, high aldosterone levels should move way up the chain of risk factors for humans as well.
This is another example where salt-sensitivity is not an independent medical condition, but an overt manifestation of a more profound physiological disturbance resulting in excessive aldosterone production. It is control over aldosterone levels which will be the critical strategy for treatment.
The evidence continues to build....
One of the most misunderstood phenomenons related to hypertension is commonly termed “salt-sensitivity.” It has never been explained to everyone’s satisfaction, it is complicated to characterize and most people who are diagnosed with it are unaware they have it. Why is that? Could it be that salt-sensitivity is not an independent medical condition per se but rather a coupled overt manifestation of a far more profound physiological disturbance?
We have long known that many people of African decent have a heightened tendency towards hypertension. In what has become almost a knee-jerk reaction, these individuals are routinely prescribed a low-salt diet with highly variable degrees of success. Now, researchers Kammerer and Pratt have looked more closely onto the matter and have determined that many Africans have a genetic predisposition to high aldosterone levels, which is a significant contributor to hypertension.
The rennin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) evolved as a means of physiologically controlling the amount of sodium in the blood. When we consume sufficient sodium (salt), the excess is simply excreted in the urine. When we do not consume sufficient sodium, several receptor systems in the body are stimulated to activate the RAAS, which produces aldosterone, which in turn signals the kidneys to start recouping the sodium that was destined to be excreted in the urine and send it back to the circulatory system. That is the sodium control mechanism that has evolved for humans and many other animal species. For most people, the RAAS begins to be activated when our consumption of salt falls below 6-8 g per day.
While aldosterone plays this very important sodium-control function, its presence at elevated levels in our blood is not benign. High levels of circulating aldosterone are associated with several negative consequences including hypertension, degeneration of arterial epithelium, metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes.
Of particular interest is the combination of elevated aldosterone and normal to high salt consumption which routinely results in increased blood pressure.
Researchers Kammerer and Platt believe the genetic tendency for Africans to have elevated aldosterone levels is the evolutionary result of coming from an environment that was traditionally low in salt, thereby necessitating a continual need to conserve all available salt within the body. This chronically elevated level of aldosterone has resulted in high rates of hypertension and a symptomatic sensitivity to salt.
The conventional first course of treatment – severe reduction of salt in the diet – may have a positive impact on reducing some of the blood pressure, but it does nothing to reduce the chronically-high levels of aldosterone. On the contrary, reducing salt may stimulate even more aldosterone production with all the attendant negative consequences.
Salt reduction is a very poor and somewhat thoughtless strategy in this circumstance and the most likely reason for its inevitable selection is the dogmatic attachment to the concept of “salt-sensitivity.”
Labeling chronic elevated aldosterone as “salt-sensitivity” is a bit like calling the genetic tendency to accumulate cholesterol as “schmaltz-sensitivity.” The basic problem is neither the salt nor the schmaltz – it is the genetically-moderated tendency to produce excessive amounts of harmful metabolites.
Just as we routinely treat cholesterol conditions with statins, we have to consider our first treatment strategy for chronically-elevated aldosterone to be ACE inhibitors and aldosterone blockers such as spironolactone. Rather than treating only one of the manifestations of the conditions, by going after the real culprit all of the consequences of elevated aldosterone will be managed.
The Institute of Medicine released its report on Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling today . In what is becoming the norm for the IOM, they totally missed the opportunity to produce something actually useful for the American public and once again demonstrated how gratuitous status and intellectual inertia can be coupled with a good dose of taxpayer's money to produce a 175 page report that is pathetic rubbish.
Not only were the authors of the report steeped in the dogma of outdated labeling practices, they could not tear themselves away from a nutrition doctrinaire that is patently false.
We have known for 4 decades that the front of the package was a totally useless place to communicate information to consumers. Under pressure from consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, (who thought they could 'control' the food industry) the government quickly agreed to a series of front-of-package, side-of-package, and back-of-package labeling schemes. The fact is there is not enough real estate on a label for useful nutritional information, nor do consumers have enough time to read and digest it.
Of course, the understanding was that if the public was made fearful of certain nutrients, the limited information on the label would compliment this fear and the consumers' choices could be influenced. Never once was there the thought of actually educating the consumer, thereby allowing for an 'informed choice.'
From the very beginning of the labeling debate, there was the option to develop the Universal Product Code or UPS or Barcode into a consumer information system. For those consumers who had a genuine interest in nutrition, one swipe of the UPC across a scanner would bring up a complete database of nutritional information, recipes, allergies, etc., etc. No longer would there be a limitation on label real estate. Unfortunately, consumer advocacy organizations were far too interested in fighting it out with industry to employ some imagination in the interests of the constituency they supposedly worked for. Now, with near-universal access to the Internet and UPC-reading smartphones, this technology is easier to put into place than ever.
So conventional labeling systems, with all their insurmountable problems endured. Over the years, like a growing Tower of Babel, labeling systems became more complex and even less understandable. To deal with that problem, the food 'authoritarians' decided to simplify the label and go another step further in eliminating intelligent consumer's choice. Simplified systems intended to drive the consumer directly to a specific choice - traffic lights, check marks, scores, medical society endorsements - began to appear - designed to eliminate thought and dispense with informed decision making. Again, not the slightest thought given to educating the consumer.
Into the fray steps the Institute of Medicine whose 175 page report now says that the problem is that there is too much information on the front-of-package label. They recommend cutting it back to just four items. All consumers really need to know about is calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
This latest IOM report comes on the heels of two related publications: 1) the Harvard study by Bernstein and Willet , which revealed that sodium consumption has not changed in 40 years, while the rate of hypertension has gone up considerably, and 2) the report at the Obesity Society annual meeting in San Diego showing that calorie labeling on the menu did not reduce calorie consumption in fast-food restaurants.
The first publication revealed that sodium is not related to the rise in hypertension, which was always the main reason that the IOM wants salt consumption reduced, while the second report revealed that calorie labeling had little effect on consumer choice.
Talk about being a day late and a dollar short!
Well, at long last the data are in. In a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (pdf 135.14 kB) , Harvard researchers Adam Bernstein and Walter Willett found that the amount of sodium consumed by Americans over the past 4 decades has remained unchanged, while the rates of high blood pressure have increased greatly. The result, based upon the most reliable form of data - the 24 hour urinary sodium analysis - was a real shock. So upsetting was this data that the authors parsed it in the following way:
"Sodium intake in the US adult population appears to be well above current guidelines and does not appear to have decreased with time."
No statement can be more reflective of a fixed ideology than that. In the first instance, they fully expected to see a significant increase in salt - but they did not - salt consumption has remained unchanged - why did they not simply say salt has not increased with time? If high blood pressure increased significantly but salt consumption did not, then it is obvious that the Dietary Guidelines regarding salt are totally baseless, yet once again they remain entrapped in a flawed doctrine that has proven to be wrong time and time again.
In fact, their most telling, but grudging admission comes near the end of their publication:
"Thus, despite the increase in processed foods in the US marketplace over the past 50 y, total caloric imbalance and the resultant epidemic of obesity may be a more important determinant of the increased prevalence of hypertension than sodium intake."
In other words, the sodium-hypertension link is not what it was quacked up to be!
Not surprisingly, Dr Graham MacGregor (University of London, UK), the spiritual father of WASH (World Action on Salt and Health) feels there must be something wrong with the data . The man behind the worldwide campaign to denigrate salt, has typically tried to cast doubt upon the data because it blows away his anti-salt agenda and his lifelong work.
One thing we know for certain. These data are real and confirms that on a population-wide basis, salt does not contribute to high blood pressure except for a minority of the population that is salt sensitive. I await the day when researchers shake loose from their arbitrary dogma and willingly admit the truth. We will all be better off.
Despite all the claims of success made by the salt reduction advocates around the world, the actual results of their efforts on the marketplace don't come close to matching their rhetoric.
The world's largest soup company and the one that has been most aggressive in claiming major salt reductions for their line of soups has also experienced a dramatic decline in their soup sales since their salt reduction program began.
Despite the claims of reduced salt consumption by the now defunct Food Standards Agency, the sales of retail salt in the UK (including cooking, table and sea salt) have shot up by anywhere from 17.5 - 26.5% in the last year, depending upon which market watch reports you subscribe to . This seems to confirm what we have always believed - remove the salt from processed foods and consumers will simply replace it with table salt.
The latest news appears to be even more ominous for the anti-salt advocates. Yesterday's edition of the Irish Times contains an article describing the growing resistance to Ireland's copycat salt reduction program .
Paul Cullen, the consumer affairs correspondent for the Irish Times reports that a number of companies are starting to pull out of the Irish Food Safety Authority's registry of companies willing to join in salt reduction efforts. Even more significant, a far greater number than ever before have declined to even join the effort. Perhaps they, too, have been monitoring what has actually been going on in the marketplace.
The very public salt reduction circus continues to play out in the media, but when considering this ongoing shambles, it is far more important to be cognizant of real market developments rather than paying attention to the hype.
I was recently asked to serve as one of the external peer reviewers of the "Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for Chloride: Scientific Criteria Document." In doing so, I documented the numerous instances where the authors were less than fastidious in checking the reliability of their references and selectively interpreted results to fit a preconceived agenda. It was a clear case where the pursuit of science morphed into ideology.
The original and subsequent iterations of the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for Chlorides characterized it as a "Scientific Criteria Document," yet the body of the text stated that the document was "precautionary" in nature. Well, you can't have it both ways. Any document that follows the "precautionary principle" admits by definition that it is devoid of scientific consensus and, in lieu of evidence, as a precaution, asks that the burden of proof fall on those wishing to dispute the authors’ conclusions. How can such a work be characterized as a Scientific Criteria Document?
When pointing out that entirely new bodies of evidence, which significantly improved upon the accuracy and relevance of the science had not been referred to, I was informed that, in the opinion of the authors, this new science did not apply to Canadian waters - a rather odd response in light of the fact that one of the main references I used was a major Canadian mining study. Indeed, the authors' response appeared to be little more than a convoluted justification of all the positions they had taken in the original document.
In carrying out the review of the original document, I was struck by the general insensitivity of toxicological evaluations to the environment they were supposed to protect. Standard toxicological examinations do not account for the water chemistry of the bodies of water in question. The work is carried out in a controlled laboratory in liquid media that may have no similarity at all to the bodies of water in question. Comprehensive studies in Georgia by the United States Geological Survey, by the Department of Natural Resources in the state of Iowa and in Canada's Northwest Territories Ekati Diamond Mine have all found the highly significant effect of water hardness on chloride toxicity. It turns out that water hardness substantially mitigates the impact of chlorides on all sensitive species.
Standard toxicological examinations do not account for the specific animals and plants found in the bodies of water in question. Instead, it's back to the laboratory where they use a few standard organisms that may never have been within a thousand miles of the waters in question. How anyone can seriously believe that such an analysis protects the environment in the remotest way is beyond me.
What I found even more egregious were conclusions made regarding the toxicity of road salt. Yes, through runoff, road salt can make its way into the environment and that is why we have expended so much time and resources to ensure the best management of road salt. We require salt management plans, proper storage facilities, attention given to road weather information systems and the careful management of stormwater runoff to minimize any effect on the environment - just the right amount of salt at the right place and at the right time - an assembly of the very best practices.
As it happens, chloride loss to the environment is seasonal simply because road salt is used in winter. Therefore, losses to the environment mainly occur from mid-winter to early spring. This also happens to be the time when most of the biota living in streams and other bodies of water are at a low point in their growth cycle. Cold weather encourages a lag in growth and a diminution in the various organisms’ food supplies. From the few publications I have seen which studied toxicity under these conditions, it appears that organisms are less vulnerable during this period. However, back at the laboratory, this phenomenon is non-existent. The standard laboratory condition of 70ºF is kept constant throughout the year. There is no summer, no fall, no winter, and no spring - there is only the continual, comfortable, standard laboratory. There is absolutely no recognition that the organisms we want to protect live in an active, dynamic environment and that they have evolved various life and growth cycles to survive under these natural conditions.
The question is how much have we paid for environment-focused decisions made under conditions that have no bearing to reality? How is it that scientists have become so isolated from reality that they are willing to accept results that are worse than irrelevant - they are patently misleading!
It's really time to have another look at the whole imperfect science if it is to benefit us in any way.
This week may go down as one of the bleakest in nutritional history. By total chance, two seemingly unrelated fragments of research coalesced to reveal the potential for unwarranted dietary recommendations, such as those promulgated by the Dietary Guidelines, to wreak havoc upon society.
In large headlines, London’s Daily Mail reported that researchers from Maastricht University in Holland have discovered that reduced salt diets during pregnancy lead to a disproportionate number of female births! Their conclusions followed a five-year study involving 172 Western European women aged from 23 to 42 who had all previously given birth to boys, but this time around they wanted girls.
Researchers instructed the women to cut out salt and eat lots of dairy products. Because diets with low levels of salt are not very palatable, many of the women dropped out of the survey, but 21 women stuck it out to the end. And, of the 21, 16 gave birth to daughters – indicating an astonishing success rate of almost 80 per cent!
Although this was the first time that humans have allowed themselves to be guinea pigs for such experiments, it will certainly not be the last. If the latest iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for American, expected to be released shortly, will ever be implemented it promises to be the largest clinical trial on record, using the entire population of the United States – 308 million people - as the test subjects. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 4 grams of salt per day on average, a level lower than ever experienced in recorded human history and considerably less than that of any other modern society in the world!
If the researchers at Maastricht University are correct, this Dietary Guidelines recommendation may spell the doom of society as we know it.
No, I am not referring to our evolution into a female-dominated society similar to that living in the area north of the Black Sea, described by the famous Greek historian, Herodotus, in the fifth century BC. We all know that the all–female society of fierce warriors he called Amazons is little more than a myth.
What I am referring to is the second fragment of apocalyptic research recently announced by economists Gordon Dahl from the University of Rochester and Enrico Moretti from UCLA . They analyzed three million U.S. birth and marriage records, and found that married couples with one daughter are almost 5 percent more likely to split up, versus those with one son. And the effect grew more pronounced with more offspring. Parents of three girls are about 10 percent more likely to divorce than those with three boys. The numbers were even worse in other countries.
Mounting evidence in social science journals demonstrates that the divorce rate is eroding society as we know it and will have a devastating effect upon future generations (small as they eventually may be).
Were the Dietary Guidelines to be followed, the reduced salt diets recommended would lead to a veritable torrent of fairer sex births shadowed by an epidemic of divorce, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1857 British Matrimonial Causes Act.
The breakdown of society is another in the long list of unintended consequences resulting from the unwise and totally unwarranted recommendations resulting from the latest iteration of the Dietary Guidelines.
For years, I have gone on record highlighting the benefits of the “Mediterranean” diet . This was no second or third party pitch I was making. Having lived in Italy for almost 20 years, I have ample ‘first-hand’ experience of the diet and its many health benefits. At the same time, it was clear to me that this healthful diet was being misrepresented to fit the agendas of certain individuals and organizations in the health and consumer segments.
There is no doubt that everyone loves a winner and the hands-down favorite diet all around the world promoting good health is the Mediterranean diet, so naturally all the diet talking heads tried to pitch it in their favor. Lots of salads, vegetables and fruits, plenty of grains (bread and pasta), good cheeses, a lot of fish and a small amount of meat – that’s how all the Mediterranean diet promoters characterized it. And there is no doubt, the cardiovascular figures of Mediterranean residents are amongst the best in the world.
But all the pretenders in the medical institutions and the consumer group sector neglected to mention one very important aspect of the Mediterranean diet – it’s very high salt content. That can only mean one of two things. Either, they had no idea of what the diet actually was but pretended they did, or they knew it was a very high salt diet but purposely lied about it because it did not fit their agenda. After all, the urban myth was that high salt diets contributed to cardiovascular disease and if the Mediterranean diet was revealed to be high in salt, it would prove to be very embarrassing to their salt reduction agenda. Either way, it makes me wonder how consumers can still have any faith in the medical establishment when it comes to nutritional advice.
Aside from my personal experience of the food in Italy, there was a highly regarded publication by C. Leclercq and A. Ferro-Luzzi describing the high salt content of the Italian diet (1). This 20 year old paper was just reconfirmed by a recent study of A. Venezia et al, published in the May edition of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition . And still, the Southern Italians continue to enjoy good cardiovascular health.
And salt is not a bystander to this good health paradigm. A key determinant of good health is the consumption of a sufficient amount of salads and vegetables. These foods contain the bulk of the essential water-soluble micro-nutrients we consume. You don’t get as many water soluble nutrients from any other source in the diet. And it is salt that makes salads and vegetables so tasty. Salt is what encourages a good, well-balanced diet. That is why we evolved to like salt as much as we do – because it keeps us healthy.
The doom and gloom prophets, the food police and the nutrition con artists are all preaching that our diet is killing us. Fortunately, most of us are blissfully unaware of this so we continue to enjoy life and thrive better than at any time in the entire history of mankind – just check out the health statistics on the CDC website .
(1) C. Leclercq and A. Ferro-Luzzi, “Total and domestic consumption of salt and their determinants in three regions of Italy,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Mar, 45(3), 151-9, (1991).
(2) A Venezia, G Barba, O Russo, C Capasso, V De Luca, E Farinaro, F. Cappuccio, and P Strazzullo, “Dietary sodium intake in a sample of adult male population in southern Italy: results of the Olivetti Heart Study,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 64, 518-524 (May 2010).