Score one for the good guys! The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently adopted the rationale proffered by EuSalt and announced it would forego multi-national dietary guidelines. EFSA announced :
The main conclusion of the Panel is that it is not feasible to establish detailed and effective FBDG [note: Food Based Dietary Guidelines] which could be used at the EU level as diet-related public health priorities may differ between countries. FBDG must also take into account wide disparities in dietary habits, due to cultural differences in eating patterns and the varying availability of food products across Europe. Therefore the NDA Panel decided to focus its opinion on the scientific process underlying the development of FBDG.
EuSalt hailed the decision as "evidence for its long-standing position, namely that it is not feasible to generalise, neither globally nor on European level, requirements on the intake of salt." EuSalt argued broad guidelines would "be dangerous for many." EuSalt also expressed pleasure at the newly-announced review of the scientific process underlying dietary advisories.
The Salt Institute congratulates both EFSA and EuSalt for their enlightened advocacy.
Arguing hyperbolically that it is "even more important to reduce consumption of sodium" than to eliminate trans-fat in foods, two staffers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene editorialized in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA , subscription required) that "it is nearly impossible for consumers to greatly reduce their own salt intake." They urge drastic government controls to "protect the public from unhealthy food" such as restrictions on marketing foods they don't like and subsidizing the consumption of government-favored foods, zoning restrictions to bar location of restraurants that serve foods they don't like or taxes on such "bad foods."
In short, the solution is to restrict consumer choices to their know-it-all choices. "The modern food supply is tainted -- it is too salty, too sugary, and too rich in calories, and there is simply too much of such food easily available," they continue, arguing that governments should regulate the amount of salt and added sugar in foods. "Food safety for the 21st century should be reframed....public health systems must reduce the contribution of food to the epidemics of obesity and chronic disease."
Over the past year, with evidence turing against arguments for universal sodium reduction, advocates of cutting salt are becoming shriller and more totalitarian. Perhaps the the NYC Department of Health is upset that reason Magazine ranked New York City the nation's second-worst "nanny-state city" (behind San Francisco) when it comes to dietary fascism and the Big Apple is out to regain its #1 ranking.
A new analysis released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported fewer Americans using federally-mandated nutrition information, especially sodium. The 2005-2006 NHANES study of 9,416 representative consumers found about 7 in 10 use the Nutrition Facts label, about the same as a decade ago. For sodium, only 66% consulted the label in 1995-1996 and that number declined 10% to 60% in 2005-2006. Among nutrients, only cholesterol fell more, 11%. Among all the listed nutrients, fiber was the only one where consumers registered increased concern as reflected in label use.
The label was mandated in 1994; sodium labeling had been in effect a decade before that.
Over the past ten years, 5% more reported "never" using the label. For salt/sodium, the increase in "never use" increased by 10 points from 12% to 22%. A decade earlier, 36% "always/often" used the sodium label; that eroded to 34%.
It would take another study to tell us why consumers are shunning nutrition information, but the pattern is consistent. Eleven percent fewer are using label health claims (37% "never") and even the ingredient list (32% "never"). With the multiplicity of advisories and the fact that scientists dispute the health consequences of cholesterol and sodium (and other nutrients), consumers are overwhelmed and doubtful about the advice they're being given. That's why the new Dietary Guidelines should adopt an "evidence-based medicine" approach in lieu of the expert panel approach of past reviews.
The general public understands that blood pressure is an important risk factor for cardiovascular health. Most people don't realize that the hormone aldosterone is an even more powerful risk factor predicting cardiovascular events and mortality. After reading the latest issue of the just-released Salt and Health newsletter, you will understand that aldosterone is the key to understanding why low-salt diets have not proved beneficial to human health.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released results of the 2005-2006 NHANES database today. Entitled "What we eat in America," you're probably going to read about it in the MSM. I doubt you'll read in the newspapers what you read here.
This survey of what Americans eat and how it relates to their health and mortality has been conducted for about 35 years. The 9,349 individuals are selected to be a cross-section of American society.
Analyses of earlier NHANES reports (I, II and III) have consistently and convincingly disparaged the notion that those on low-salt diets enjoy any health advantages. See, for example, the analysis of NHANES III on this point presented recently to the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Clinical Nutrition.
The 2005-2006 data will eventually be combined with health outcomes data allowing this analysis. For now, however, we have the nutrient intake data. The sodium data is on page 4 . Those data unmask another shibboleth employed by crusaders for universal salt reduction, namely that African Americans and Mexican immigrants are particularly prone to consume "excess sodium" putting themselves at a health risk.
The data tell a different tale. Whatever the ultimate health outcomes of these groups, don't blame salt intake. The average American in 2005-2006 consumed 3,436 milligrams of sodium a day -- the same as it's been for a century or more and smack dab in the middle of the global range of population intakes, contrary to anti-salt proselytizers' contention that Americans eat an abnormally high amount of salt.
Compare the average 3,436 mg/day to these groups; what do you find? African Americans ("non-Hispanic blacks" in the government's nomenclature) consumed only 3,257 mg/day. That is 5% less than average and 8% less than Caucasians. For Mexican Americans the difference is greater still; Hispanics eat only 3,162 mg/day of sodium, 8% less than average and more than 10% less than whites.
The Salt Institute has argued that we need to focus more on total quality diet; our opponents have explicitly rejected that policy direction , arguing that sodium/salt reduction would be superior. Let's follow the data. African Americans are the identified priority beneficiaries of salt reduction, its proponents say. Experts have argued that dietary potassium is an excellent indicator of a qualty diet: the higher the potassium, the better the diet. These new USDA data show African Americans eating 14% less potassium than average. The data support our call for an emphasis on overall dietary improvement, not salt reduction.
It's been another bad month for the anti-salt crowd. In early July, other USDA data showed no change in Americans' sodium consumption over the past 40 years, disproving the argument that our increased consumption of processed foods has led to an increase in sodium intake. Not so, said USDA. Then, the study they welcomed as "definitive," actually disproved their contention that salt worsened asthmatic conditions . Pesky data, those.