James Joyner is expressing some concern over the proposal that the FDA restrict the amount of salt that processed foods may contain:
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.
There are some foods, e.g. cheese or bacon, that can’t be made low in sodium without actually changing their character. Cheddaring, for example, is a process of salting. You can’t make cheddar cheese without salt. It’s a contradiction in terms. I suspect that the real impact of this will depend on how processed food is defined. Is cheddar cheese processed food? Obviously, the answer is yes but it may not be from a regulatory standpoint.
I’ve been on a pretty low sodium diet for the last 50 years, long before it became fashionable. My mom rarely used salt in her cooking and didn’t include much in the way of processed foods in our diet after about 1958 and I took up the practice as well. My blood pressure is okay for my age and part of the reason for that might be the diet I’ve eaten over the years. Since I make practically everything from scratch and restrict the amount of things high in salt like bacon or cheese in my diet, I really don’t worry much about it.
I think the real secret of reducing the amount of sodium in one’s diet is re-educating one’s palate. Unlike fat, there’s no inborn drive for lots of salt in the diet. Throughout our existence as a species human beings have preferentially sought out the highest fat food in their environments. The same has not been found for the highest salt-containing foods. Much salt craving is simply learned. If you’ve got it, reducing the salt in processed foods won’t help. I recall that my father-in-law used to put salt on his bacon.
Regular commenter PD Shaw makes a good point at the OTB post linked above:
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.
As I suggested above, I suspect that the impact of this move will depend on what the meaning of is is.