health news
June 2, 2010 posted by

Salt: The Empire Strikes Back

These are dark times in a galaxy of a food consumers worried about health. Last month, TSD reported that sodium recommendations were changing due to an outcry from the public. It was a new hope; government being spurred on by a public concern for personal safety. But empires aren’t afraid of little populist regimes and it appears Salt Vader has enlisted the dark side of the Force to change their minds.

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

Unfortunately, there’s more than taste at stake when we analyze proper nutrition. There is no question that high salt consumption is leading to thousands of deaths (health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year in the US alone) and millions of people becoming ill. The issue is that a huge industry is dependant upon us consuming salt–a lot of salt. And these people make a lot of money and, hence, wield a lot of power and will do their darndest to keep it that way.

The article, The Hard Sell On Salt, from the NY Times, is long and goes into a lot of depth. I suggest you read it. For those who won’t here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Most processed foods aren’t really food. They’re just amalgamations of chemicals that bind together that are flavored in a way that some scientists have figured out will cause you to crave them. For example:

As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.

They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.

The main addictive qualities of these foods come from salt, sugar, and fat; incidentally (or not) the three culprits of the obesity epidemic. There’s not much nutrition in these foods, which are fortified with a few “essential vitamins.” This may sound great on TV to kids but is done, essentially, to keep you from dying quickly. Real food has all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients you need to be healthy and doesn’t need to be fortified with anything.

The bulk of processed food is generally corn but can be the by product of pretty much anything because it’s been processed so thoroughly it’s simply a binder that is now devoid of any nutritional use it once had. So when you eat processed foods you eat some sort of unnatural balance of salt, sugar, and fat that enhances some empty calories that are fortified with some random vitamins. Based on this so-called logic the processed food industry is arguing that forcing a reduction in salt would just lead to an increase in sugar or fat. Health should not come into play because it’s not what consumers care about.

“We were trying to balance the public health need with what we understood to be the public acceptability,” said William K. Hubbard, a top agency official at the time who now advises an industry-supported advocacy group. “Common sense tells you if you take it down too low (salt) and people don’t buy, you have not done something good.”

So the industry argument is that people want to eat junk that will kill them so we’re beholden to supply them with junk and it’s unfair to ask them to change for the good of society. That’s like not feeding your child vegetables because they’d rather eat candy and then saying it was okay that they died of diabetes because it’s what they wanted. Except it’s not like that; it’s like doing that and then demanding the other parents follow suit because candy is what their kids really want to eat.

In closing, one corporate spokesman who did not give a name but was dressed in some type of black cloaked Halloween costume stated in a deep, breathy voice:

We do not yet realize salt’s importance. We have only begun to discover its power. Join me, and I will complete your salt training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.


  • Awesome article Steve! Processed/manufactured salt is void of any nutritional value and a health risk. However, unprocessed sea salt (celtic, french, etc.) is a whole food and when used moderately, can actually be beneficial to the body. I've used water, lemon and a pinch of sea salt as my "gatorade" for years know and is way healthier than the "real gatorade"!

  • Read the article. A few more things stand out to me:"Beyond its own taste, salt also masks bitter flavors and counters a side effect of processed food production called 'warmed-over flavor," which, the scientists said, can make meat taste like 'cardboard' or 'damp dog hair.'"Ummmm . . . maybe it tastes like crap because it is crap! And crap covered in salt in an attempt to mask the crap taste is still crap!"If all of a sudden people would demand lower alt because low salt makes them look younger, this problem would be solved overnight."Sad, but true. It's amazing what garbage people will ingest all in search of the "appearance" holy grail, whether that be looking younger, getting "cut" and "buff" with "six-pack abs," or whatever."Scientists testifying for the snack industry at a government hearing warned that lower salt consumption culd pose certain health risks to children and pregnant women."Hmmm . . . well, in 2004, the IOM established an adequate intake level (AI) for sodium "based on the amount needed to replace losses through sweat in moderately active people and to achieve a diet that provides sufficient amounts of other essential nutrients." The AI for pregant women ages 14-50 years of age is 1,500 mg per day; for children ages 1-3, 1000 mg; ages 4-8, 1200 mg; and ages 9-13, 1500 mg. Not one population has an AI of over 1500 mg per day.I could go on, but I'll spare you . . ./michm

  • Mmmmm… salted coffee…

  • Love the article, informative and funny.Unfortunately food industry works the same way as an email scam, the people who educate themselves know what to look for and know how to detect the scam, if there was no one who fell for it, then no one would continue to create the email scams because they would be a waste of time. Food industry paints pictures of pretty ponies around the food, people love the taste of fast foods and junk, they add whats in that junk to everything else so people keep eating it, and in a sick way, people have decided to keep eating it and therefore there is someone that keeps serving it. If everyone stopped eating that kind of stuff, than it would all fall apart, and these places would cater to healthy.When Subway had a huge thing for healthy eating, and the wave started again (Because it comes and goes) of people wanting to eat healthier, lots of fast foods brought apparently healthier choices, even McDonalds besides the salads that they still have, had options for deli sandwiches, but as you can see, people prefer the heart attack on a platter and purchase the burger instead with salty and sugary fries, and away went the deli sandwiches. So in a sick sort of way, they are kinda right, they serve people what they want, but they do help people decide by dressing things up and making them look and taste more appetizing with more junk, which is cheaper than the healthier stuff. It's a business like any other, it if cost less to add slat, sugar and fat, than to add healthy ingredients than forget healthy. We have to all take a stand and do what's right for us, and stop being a sheep and following what other people do, stop eating junk.

  • I think Alton's comment is a little out of context. I've seen the episode of Good Eats devoted to salt and he only talks about why it's applied to food in the most wholistic ways. Alton is not one for processed food, he just talks about how salt is used to flavor food naturally, no to keep garbage lasting longer and tasting better. Sorry, random, just gotta stick up for my man AB. haha

  • Agree with the Alton Brown comment…I would be surprised if he ate ANY processed food. He's not talking about adding salt to some franken-food ~ he's talking about using it as appropriate to whole foods…which is as it should be.

  • The point of the AB quote is that Cargill is using it out of context as they lobby government to recommend us to eat much more salt than we need. It's deliberately deceitful.

  • I stand corrected. Thank you! In that context, yes, what is being promoted, along with what's been in place for years, is an abomination.

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