Salt in the American Diet (Part 2)

  • Health professionals often work to reduce their patients salt intake to reduce high blood pressure. Should the government get involved too? (Photo by James Gathany for the US CDC)

New research shows that Americans’ health
would benefit dramatically if we ate less
salt. But some people say it’s not the
salt in the saltshaker that’s the
problem. Julie Grant reports:


New research shows that Americans health would benefit dramatically if we ate less salt. But some people say it’s not the salt in the saltshaker that’s the problem. Julie Grant reports:

Darryl Bosshardt comes from a salt family. His grandfather started mining salt on their farm in central Utah. When Bosshardt hears about a new study that shows 100-thousand American lives could be saved each year if everyone reduced their salt intake by just a half teaspoon – he cringes.
He says salt is being given a bad name.

“And the challenge is, how we define salt.”

Most of the salt today all looks the same – perfectly pour-able, uniform bright white grains. It’s pure sodium and chloride, but Bosshardt, whose family owns the Real Salt Company, says it’s not the same as naturally occurring sea salt.

“Sea water occurs with many trace minerals. Over 50 to 60 trace minerals. It doesn’t occur, the salt in sea water doesn’t occur, as pure sodium and chloride.”

Bosshardt says those trace minerals help the body to process sodium, but most salt today looks perfect because the trace minerals have been taken out. He says when our bodies lack the minerals needed to process sodium; it raises blood pressure, which can lead to heart problems.

There are some books by holistic doctors that make these kinds of claims,but there’s not much science to prove this.

Most doctors today say salt is salt; sodium chloride. Our bodies need it, but not as much as much as most Americans are eating.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo is a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California in San Francisco. She’s lead author of that new study on salt – the one that finds Americans could reduce deaths from heart disease by 100-thousand just by slightly reducing salt consumption:

“I don’t think we’re saying salt is bad and one of these other types of salt would be good. I think the newer types of salt that are on the market might have a lower sodium content for the taste that they have and so that would certainly be potentially beneficial.”

But Bibbins-Domingo says most Americans only get 6-percent of their sodium from their own saltshakers. The rest comes from processed foods and restaurants. So buying expensive sea salts with those trace minerals isn’t going to make much difference to most people. She says the problem is that salt is ubiquitous – people don’t even realize they’re eating it:

“If you start out with a healthy bowl of cereal with some milk, you’ve already consumed quite a bit of salt right there. If you have that healthy turkey sandwich or tuna sandwich, you have a bit of salt right there. If you have the marinara sauce with the pasta, you have salt there. So you realize that there are so many different ways, without you choosing items that we might clearly associate with a high sodium content, that there are a lot of places that we’re all consuming salt.”

Bibbins-Domingo supports efforts like the one in New York City. There Mayor Michael Bloomburg is urging food manufacturers to reduce the salt in their foods by 25% over the next five years.

Mark Kurlansky thinks it’s a terrible idea. He wrote a book called “Salt.” When laws curb smoking – that’s one thing. But salt is something different:

“You have to deal with the fact that people like salt. There isn’t the moral imperative of cigarettes because there isn’t a problem of second hand salt. If you don’t want to eat salt and the guy at the next table wants to eat it, it’s not going to affect you. It becomes an issue of government messing around with individual choice.”

But most people don’t realize they’re making that choice – there’s just so much salt in all the foods they buy. Other countries, such Finland and England, have worked with food manufacturers to lower salt content. In the UK, they cut sodium in foods by 10-percent. And researchers say the public didn’t even notice. They’re still studying to see if it’s actually improved health.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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