How To Choose Healthy Fish

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. With so many fish to choose from, how can you be sure you’re making a healthy choice? This helpful infographic makes the choice simpler. 

How To Choose Healthy Fish

Via. Click here to view larger image. 

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Big Fat Surprise: Eat Fat To Lose Weight

Back in 2006, my mother called me. She had news for me – big news. “Fat is a good thing,” she said. “If you want to lose weight, you need to eat more fat.” Acting on advice she had originally gleaned from a number of niche health blogs, including the Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Mercola, and ultimately confirmed through her own experience, she advised me to begin eating more healthy natural sources of fat. At first, I ignored her.

Like any good mother, she continued to pester me. She sent me e-mails: “All of your friends who eat low-fat diets should be worried about their hearts and their brains and their muscles and their reproductive organs,” she wrote. “This information won’t be mainstream for a few more years.” She sent me studies. She sent me articles.

Eventually, I found myself curious and I began to follow her advice. Over the course of several years, I lost weight so slowly that I barely noticed. What I did notice was that my energy levels and overall health improved. When I landed at a weight that was right for my body, I found that I was able to easily maintain the weight loss. I didn’t have to play games with myself. I didn’t have to pretend I was full when I wasn’t. I rarely thought about portion control. At restaurants, I usually finished my entire meal, while my girlfriends packaged up barely-nibbled dishes to take home. In fact, my metabolism increased so much that I noticed I could eat more than the vast majority of my friends.

Food was no longer a struggle. It was a daily pleasure. What had happened? I could eat whenever I was hungry and I almost always felt full after meals. I no longer had ravenous, obsessive cravings. If I wanted dessert, I ate dessert. I weighed less and I had more energy. I tried to exercise when I had time, but I didn’t adhere to a strict schedule. Girlfriends asked me, “What’s your secret? How do you eat so much?”

My diet looked something like this: Most mornings, I scrambled a couple of eggs and topped them with a few slices of melted cheese, an avocado, a chopped tomato, and salsa. (Colleagues were shocked by my breakfast: “You eat an omelet with cheese and an entire avocado every morning before work? But you’re so tiny!”) Instead of grabbing a “health” bar when I was on the go, I ate more nuts and cheese. At lunch and dinner, I ate more red meat and fish. I stopped buying non-fat and low-fat dairy products altogether, and replaced them with whole milk products. Soon I began to crave more fruits and vegetables, and so I ate more fruits and vegetables. I ate large green salads with chicken, cheese, nuts, avocados, and apples or organic strawberries. To cook, I used olive oil or butter – never vegetable oil. When I wanted to indulge, I made myself a heaping bowl of full-fat vanilla ice cream, typically topped with a banana, chopped dark chocolate, and peanut butter spooned out of the jar. Whenever possible, I avoided soy. I bought as much non-GMO, organic food as I could afford. I never consciously ate less bread, but soon I found that I went days at a time without eating bread; my body simply didn’t crave it.

“Eat more fat. Lose more weight.” It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s not.

It’s taken years for the mainstream media to catch on, but my mother was right. Almost a decade later, a number of publications are writing about it:

The Wall Street Journal | The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat And Heart Disease

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303678404579533760760481486

The New York Times | A Call For A Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat

The New York Times | Study Questions Fat And Heart Disease Link

The New York Times | Butter Is Back

NPR | Rethinking Fat: The Case For Adding Some Into Your Diet

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/03/31/295719579/rethinking-fat-the-case-for-adding-some-into-your-diet

NPR | Don’t Fear The Fat: Experts Question Saturated Fat Recommendations

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/03/17/290846811/dont-fear-the-fat-experts-question-saturated-fat-guidelines

NPR | The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/02/12/275376259/the-full-fat-paradox-whole-milk-may-keep-us-lean

TIME Magazine| Ending The War On Fat

Ending the War on Fat

Men’s Health | What If Bad Fat Is Actually Good For You?

http://www.menshealth.com/health/saturated-fat

The Greatist | Everyone Was Wrong: Saturated Fat Is Good For You

http://greatist.com/health/saturated-fat-healthy

Despite the overwhelming evidence that diets high in fat are healthy, not everyone is on board yet. Last year, The Atlantic summed up succinctly how public health reform works: “slowly, based on mounting scientific evidence, against constant and mounting headwinds of public ridicule and, much more important, industry lobbying and advertising.” As is usually the case when the medical establishment is wrong, positive change can take two to three decades–or even more–to take full root. Doctors and nutritionists often have trouble letting go of the facts they studied so hard during medical and graduate school. Today, some health advocates are still dangerously confused; these misinformed doctors and nutritionists erroneously promote low-fat dairy products. Many of these doctors believe their patients won’t be able to exercise “restraint” if they eat high-fat foods; what they don’t understand is that fat is satiating and when people eat healthy sources of fat, they tend to desire–and consume–less of everything.

Of course, the source of fat matters. A diet high in processed deli meats and sausages is not good for anyone. A diet high in McDonald’s burgers is not the same as a diet high grass-fed steak. Trans fats, which are found in donuts and processed foods, are not healthy; they are poisonous. But the evidence is in and the facts are simple: unsaturated fats–and yes, saturated fats, too–are good for you.

Make today the day you change. Stop playing games. Toss out the non-fat, the low-fat, the GMO soy. Learn about the sources of your food. Count ingredients, not calories.

Start enjoying your food–and your life.

American Foods Banned In Other Countries

banned

A comprehensive and well-researched article from EatLocalGrown outlines some foods to avoid–if you live in the United States. These 10 foods are banned in other countries:

  • Genetically engineered papaya banned in the European Union
  • Ractopamine-tained meat banned in Europe, Russia, and China
  • Arsenic-laced chicken banned in Europe
  • Bread made with poisonous potassium bromide banned in Europe, China, and Canada
  • Fat imitation Olestra/Olean banned in the UK and Canada
  • Preservatives BHA and BHT banned in Europe and Japan
  • Milk made with rBGH banned in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Canada

This list offers 10 more reasons to buy organic, buy wild, buy local, read ingredients, and ignore package claims (and do your own research to take charge of your health!) Learn more about the Wellness and Equality health model here.

How Can You Improve Your Brown Bag Lunches?

brownbagOne of the realities of modern life is that our environment is different today. We eat more meals away from home and, when we do, the options available are less nutritious than ever. Maintaining good health may require more focus today than it was a hundred years ago, but it’s just as important as it always has been.

If your schedule requires you to consistently eat meals away from home, packing your lunch can go a long way towards your health and your budget. Remember, brown bag lunches are not just convenient for work and school. Having healthy snacks on hand is important while traveling, hiking, spending a day at the beach, or any other time you’re away from home for an extended period of time.

Finally, if you’re not already spending the day outdoors, be sure to take the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while you’re eating your brown bag lunch. Find a patch of grass or a park bench and take a few minutes to reconnect with nature while you eat. Breakfast typically gets all the credit, but a healthy, relaxed lunch can do wonders for physical and mental health.

Want to help the environment while you’re at it? Forego the brown bags and use a re-usable lunch bag.

Whether you’re packing your own lunch or packing lunch for a spouse or child, you will find a few ideas below for fresh and nutritious meals on the go that don’t involve processed deli meat.

Sandwiches and Salads On-The-Go:

PBandJ

1. PB & J: There’s a reason the peanut butter and jelly sandwich has been around for generations. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich prepared on whole grain bread is easy to make and requires no refrigerator. If you’re ever bored with peanut butter and jelly, try changing things up with a PB-and-banana sandwich. Spread both slices of bread with peanut butter and then layer pieces of a banana on top of one piece of bread. Place the other piece of bread on top and you’ve got a PB-and-banana sandwich.

tuna22. TUNA SALAD SANDWICH: If you want a meatier sandwich, replace your cold cuts, which are packed with nitrates, with canned tuna and organic mayonnaise. Be sure to look for a BPO-free can and don’t forget to add a few leaves of Romaine lettuce, or even sliced avocado. While tuna is arguably healthier than cold cuts, be sure to limit your tuna salad sandwiches to once or twice per week due to mercury content. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your tuna, try mixing in chopped celery, chopped apples, or even chopped raisins.

glasscontainers3. LEFTOVERS: You’ll need to invest in some glass to-go containers for this, but it’s worth it. Never let your dinner leftovers go to waste again. Instead of storing leftovers in one large container, use several smaller lunch-sized containers. Washable, glass to-go containers will last for years and are much more cost-effective for the long haul than disposable containers. On your way out the door, grab a container from the fridge and toss into your bag. You may be surprised to find that many leftovers taste delicious without re-heating.

salad4. GREEN SALAD: If you’re eating at your desk, a salad may be easier to make than it sounds. If you’re able to leave a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of balsamic vinegar on your desk at work, you can have a healthy salad every day. The key is to avoid soft, wet ingredients. The night before, prepare your salad as you usually would except without the dressing. Start with lettuce or spinach leaves, and then add protein (grilled chicken, beans, hard-boiled egg, chopped nuts), produce (sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots work well), and cheese. Top with equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar when you’re ready to eat.

choppedcaprese5. CAPRESE SALAD: Bored of green leafy salads? Try a caprese salad instead. In a glass to-go container, layer slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. (Feeling ambitious? Try growing your own basil plants.) For a change, add pieces of avocado. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and store in the fridge. Just before you’re ready to eat, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Snacks and Sides On-The-Go:

redapple1. FRUIT: Never pack a lunch without fruit. Depending on the season, you have a variety of options: a banana (slightly green/firm is best to withstand the pressure of packed lunches), a washed organic apple, an easy-to-peel tangelo, a bunch of organic grapes, washed organic berries, or sliced seasonal fruit in a glass to-go container. For a heartier mid-morning snack on the go, pair with a carton of yogurt topped with nuts.

cashews2. NUTS OR TRAIL MIX: From almonds to cashews, nuts provide a convenient mid-day boost of nutrition and energy like no other snack. Keep a bag of raw nuts in your desk drawer. Or add raisins and organic (or homemade) granola to create your own trail mix. Check the package and avoid nuts that have been roasted in oils; instead, opt for raw nuts. Almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios tend to pack the most nutrients. As with any food, the key is variety.

stringcheese3. STRING CHEESE: While it may not be as fresh as the rest of these suggestions, the convenience of organic string cheese can’t be beat. In case you’re curious what makes string cheese stringy, you can watch a news segment on the process here. In short, when you heat mozzarella cheese above 140 degrees and then cool it down, it becomes stringy. Paired with fruit, string cheese makes a perfect mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Even better, string cheese is always a child-pleaser!

celeryandpb4. VEGGIES AND DIP: Spoon a dollop of homemade vegetable dip into a glass jar and top with standing veggies. Carrots and celery sliced lengthwise work well. Organic peanut butter and celery is another combination to try. You may have to experiment a bit with jars and glass containers to find the right size container for this, but it’s worth it. This treat is also a great kid-friendly snack for road trips, too.
5. HOMEMADE BREAD: A loaf of banana bread baked over the weekend can turn into a treat for lunches all week. By baking something — as opposed to buying it — you have already won half the battle.  Be sure to check out our tips for healthier baking here. If you’ve never experimented with whole wheat flour before, banana bread is the perfect opportunity.

Have I forgotten any healthy lunch options? Please let me know by leaving a comment below!

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Worse Than Sugar?

Photo: When Mary Poppins sang about a spoonful of sugar in 1964, most Americans had never even heard of high fructose corn syrup.

A study funded by the Corn Refiners Association and published online at The Atlantic today suggests that “High Fructose Corn Syrup Is No Worse Than Real Sugar.”

To sum up the study: Overweight and obese men and women between the ages of 25 and 60 were split into five groups and provided diets with varying levels of sucrose or  high fructose corn syrup (HFCS): 10% sucrose, 20% sucrose, 10% HFCS, 20% of HFCS, or a diet designed to maintain weight. The sucrose or HFCS was consumed as liquid. All groups were required to exercise.

The study sidesteps the toughest criticism of HFCS — that, calories aside, it is linked to obesity in those who consume it — and instead asks a simpler, less-incriminating question: Does high fructose corn syrup cause more weight gain than sugar when participants are already overweight and are not allowed to act on cravings or consume additional calories?

While it’s true that a calorie is equal to any other calorie when analyzed as a mathematical measurement of energy,  where health becomes more nuanced is when we realize that calories from different sources have different effects on the body. In a clinical atmosphere, when you control a person’s caloric intake completely, it’s not always possible to see those effects. If a member of the study was fiendishly craving chocolate chip cookies but was instead provided with a plate of broccoli, the study authors are essentially ignoring the shift in hormones and chemicals that has taken place in that participant’s body.

Weight loss frustrates doctors because it should be simple: fewer calories in, more calories out.  Clearly, it’s not so simple. Many studies contradict this one. A Princeton study found that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar. A simple analysis of data shows us the relationship between HFCS and obesity: “The consumption of HFCS increased more than 1000% between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in intake of any other food or food group,” according to an article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. During those same years, the percentage of obese adults doubled.

Could it be that the exponential increase of drinking sugar is to blame for obesity and not the sugar itself? Absolutely. But this doesn’t mean that HFCS is not to blame — HFCS is perfectly suited to liquid sugar consumption. Parents who eliminate HFCS from their diets and the diets of their children go a long way toward decreasing liquid sugar intake as well.

I’m disappointed by The Atlantic‘s one-sided regurgitation of the study, which seems to come straight from the marketing department of the Corn Refiners Association. To conclude his analysis, James Hamblin writes, “There’s no reason you should pay more or go out of your way for a food just because it’s made with ‘real sugar’ instead of HFCS. Which, to be clear, is also real sugar.” Hamblin ignores the fact that, even if this study were absolutely true, it has nothing to do with those who maintain a healthy weight. It’s interesting that the study only recruited men and women who were already very overweight or obese, which Hamblin never acknowledges in his conclusion.

A quantum leap in logic is made when Hamblin suggests that Americans — almost 70% of whom are overweight or obese — should not seek out food made with ‘real’ ingredients when food made with HFCS is available. Hamblin’s bias — or the bias of those providing him information — is clear in his use of quotation marks. Health writers sometimes use quotation marks around the word “sugar” as shorthand for “imitation sugar” since there is currently no one word to describe the newer “sugar” imitations created by food giants. Quotation marks around the word “sugar” help to differentiate between newer “sugars” and the table sugar Americans have known for decades.  Instead, Hamblin uses quotation marks around the word “real” and the phrase “real sugar.”  Real sugar is real sugar, no quotations necessary. Hamblin seems to have it backwards. Back in 1997, even the Corn Refiners Association freely admitted that HFCS and sugar are different products “in terms of their physical and functional characteristics.”

I could suggest a more productive study in which the Corn Refiners Association monitors both people who are obese and people of healthy weights, allowing them to eat whatever they typically eat, and then measuring the amount of sucrose and HFCS consumed by each of the groups.  But those studies have been done and the results are clear. I could ask questions about this study to shed more light on its outcome. For example:  After the study, which group gained weight back the fastest?

Instead, here’s a more important study that you can do on your own:  Eliminate HFCS from your diet for 3 weeks.  Have a craving for a sweet snack while you’re out and about?  Swing by the grocery story and pick up some strawberries.  Have a craving for chocolate chip cookies? Bake a batch with real sugar and butter. Like pancake syrup? Try out 100% maple syrup. Read every ingredient on every package you consume — no high fructose corn syrup.

Then answer this: Have your cravings for sugar increased or decreased? Have you lost or gained weight? Overall, how do you feel?

Theory is one thing and practice is another. The Corn Refiners Association study is caught up in theory while casting a blind eye toward the very serious obesity epidemic and how the day-to-day choices that Americans must make every day affect their health.

Buying Seasonal Produce: A Guide

Yesterday, following my own advice, I picked up two fruits that I don’t routinely buy.  The first was a bag of bright orange, organic Minneolas.  My second purchase was an Asian pear, an apple-shaped, light brown fruit.

Minneolas are a cross between grapefruits and tangerines, and look like an orange with a protruding nipple.  I ate one of the Minneolas as soon as I got home.  The Minneolas had a delightfully overpowering orange scent, and the fruit tasted absolutely delicious — flavorful and sweet.  With its soft tangerine-like flesh, it was also much easier to peel than a typical orange.  At some point I realized I have eaten Minneolas before, known by their more common name: tangelos.  They are also sometimes called honeybells.

Today, I sliced open the Asian pear.  It was crisp and juicy, with a grainy Jicama-like texture. Unfortunately, the taste was flat and bland.  I ate an Asian pear for the first time a couple years ago, during an October visit with a friend.  You might think it strange that I remember, but that Asian pear was pretty incredible. (It was also quite the memorable visit with my friend, a vegetarian visiting the South for the first time.)  We had sliced an enormous Asian pear and some cheese as a snack, and the flavor of the pear had been AMAZING!  That October pear had been much larger than the current small pear, and incomparably more flavorful.

Some quick research on seasonal produce turned up information I wish I’d had at the grocery store.  Minneolas are hitting their seasonal spike right now. They’re a winter fruit with their highest peak in January.  (Fun fact: Minneolas tend to have plentiful seasons every other year, so buy them up this year or you may be waiting until 2014 for the same quality!)  Asian pears — not to be confused with traditional pears — are long past their seasonal prime.  Unlike their traditional cousins, Asian pears are a summer fruit.  I must have had the fortune of catching a late bloomer that October, though there’s little hope of an Asian pear like that during January in the heart of winter.

Buying locally-grown produce is not always easy, especially for someone who lives in the Midwest and loves tropical fruits, like mangos and strawberries. According to this fascinating interactive map from Epicurious, the “growing season” in my state is currently dormant.  While I appreciate the merits of locally-grown, I’m not about to forego fresh fruit due to a dormant growing season.  Now buying produce in season — wherever it’s grown — is something I can do.  Why buy produce in season?  For quality, taste, and price.  If only grocery stores labeled seasonal fruits and vegetables!

Since most grocery stores don’t label their seasonal produce, print out this list of seasonal produce and take it with you.  Although the seasonal produce may vary depending where you live, I have compiled the list below to get you started, thanks to help from the blog Wisebread and the information available at FruitsInfo.com.

  • WINTER PRODUCE: DECEMBER, JANUARY, FEBRUARY

Fruits: oranges (traditional and mandarin), grapefruits, tangelos, tangerines, lemons, papayas, pomegranates, bananas, kumquats, persimmons, pears (traditional)

Veggiessweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, leeks

  • SPRING PRODUCE: MARCH, APRIL, MAY

Fruits: pineapples, mangos, apricots (spring/summer), cherries (spring/summer), blueberries, nectarines, currants, figs

Veggies: lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus, spring peas, okra

  • SUMMER PRODUCE: JUNE, JULY, AUGUST

Fruits: apricots (spring/summer, cherries (spring/summer), strawberries, blueberries, peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, raspberries, plums, blackberries, honeydew, Asian pears (summer/fall)

Veggies: lettuce, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, eggplant

  • AUTUMN PRODUCE: SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER, NOVEMBER

Fruits: Asian pears (summer/fall), grapes, cranberries, apples, pomegranates, oranges, tangerines, traditional pears (fall/winter)

Veggies: lettuce, spinach, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mushrooms (fall/winter)

Do you have a suggestion to improve this list?  Or know of a more complete list available online?  Please leave a comment to share.

Happy produce picking!

Sodium: The Scapegoat

Cardiologists and chefs don’t always agree, so Michael Fenster, who is both a professional chef and an interventional cardiologist, offers a unique perspective in his article, “Don’t Hold The Salt: Attempts to Curb Sodium Intake Are Misguided,” published today on The Atlantic website.

Fenster’s article will likely prove controversial.  For years, salt has been the scapegoat of the American diet.  The FDA’s blame of salt for high blood pressure is like finding a correlation between wearing skydiving gear and falling to one’s death in a skydiving accident.  Sure, most people who die while skydiving are wearing skydiving gear; however, the act of wearing skydiving gear does not cause death.  While salt is found in most processed foods at extraordinarly high levels, abundant research shows that salt is not the culprit.  Salt is merely one ingredient in the chemical cocktail of processed foods, and processed foods are the problem.

It is an undisputed fact that the majority of Americans’ salt intake comes from processed foods and pre-prepared foods (think: Kraft, General Mills, McDonalds, and any restaurant chains where food is uniform at every location, not restaurants with actual chefs), not from table salt or home-cooked meals.  Perhaps because the FDA is well-connected to food manufacturers, the administration has generally avoided suggesting that overweight Americans eat less processed foods (such a simple recommendation!).  Instead, the FDA recommends that Americans eat more fruits and vegetables (a stance that is less upsetting to their food manufacturing friends).  In the interest of your health, you should consider the FDA primarily an undercover ally of food manufacturers, with a side interest in American health.  Indeed, almost every head of the FDA comes from a background in food manufacturing, or is highly connected within that world.

To start, a little history on salt:

The mineral salt (NaCl) is Planet Earth’s oldest food seasoning.  For thousands of years, salt has been and continues to be the safest, most natural method of food preservation.  Across diverse populations, salt consumption is surprisingly consistent, though rates of disease vary.  Over the past 50 years, salt consumption by Americans has remained roughly the same — about 3.7 grams of sodium per day, on average — according to the results of a 2010 Harvard study.  The same study noted that the rates of high blood pressure and heart disease in America have increased over the past 20 years, which perplexed the researchers.  A 2009 study conducted by UC Davis professor David McCarron analyzed the urine samples of more than 19,000 people in 33 countries over a 24 year period and found that individuals averaged about 3.72 grams of sodium per day.  A 12 year study conducted in Switzerland turned up a similar number — 3.68 grams of sodium per day.

Salt is a requirement of animal life.  Sodium deficiency or low levels of salt in the bloodstream, also known as hyponatremia results in neurological symptoms and organ failure in humans.  A 2010 article by Robert Schrier, “Does Asymptomatic Hyponatremia Exist?”  published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Reviews Nephrology found that even mild — and often undiagnosed — hyponatremia is associated with increased risk of bone fracture and bone disease.  A study of patients being treated for hip fracture found that these patients had a 67-fold higher risk of showing low blood levels of sodium.  Do low levels of sodium in the blood cause bone disease then?  We don’t know the answer for sure, since an association does not guarantee a causal relationship.

What we do know is that the levels of sodium found in your blood probably have little to do with how much salt you consume.  This is good news!  With appropriate amounts of water, your body will largely regulate your blood sodium levels on its own.   Full-blown hyponatremia is not typically caused by a lack of consumption of sodium since the mineral is so abundant and our bodies are such sophisticated regulators; hyponatremia is more commonly the result of complications from other ailments.  Just as hyponatremia is not caused by undersalting your food (though it can be caused by drinking too much water — generally only a problem for athletes and formula-fed infants), hypernatremia (that is, too much sodium in your blood) is not caused by oversalting your food.  If you try to prove me wrong by drinking excessive amounts of seawater, you will more likely make yourself sick before succeeding.

If our bodies are built to regulate salt intake, why all the hype about salt?

Good question.

Here’s why the FDA has been allowed to get away with using salt as a scapegoat:  because of the association between blood sodium and high blood pressure.   Since high blood pressure is associated with increased mortality, the medical industry has long hunted for a culprit, and ultimately settled on salt and cholesteral.  The reason for such a conclusion is that some studies have found increased salt intake can increase blood pressure.  (This finding is not surprising since many high-salt diets are the result of a diet of highly-processed foods).  Since it’s generally accepted that people with low-to-normal blood pressure have lower mortality rates than those with high blood preassure, the assumption is that a reduction in salt, and therefore a decrease in blood pressure, will translate to a decrease in mortality.

Unfortunately, the transitive property doesn’t seem to apply here.  Just as you won’t save any lives by telling skydivers to stop wearing skydiving gear, recommending against salt is no solution to the American health crisis.  In fact, dietary salt reduction does not lower mortality rates, and might even increase mortality rates.  Consider the evidence: A 2011 analysis of randomized clinical trials published in the American Journal of Hypertension explored the link between dietary salt reduction and mortality rates and found “no strong evidence of any effect of salt reduction [on] morbidity… and also showed no strong evidence of benefit.”  According to the analysis, “Salt restriction increased the risk of all-cause mortality in those with heart failure.”

Fenster references one study that finds the highest mortality rates among people with the lowest levels of sodium intake, and another that shows the safest range of salt intake lies somewhere between 2.3 and 7 grams of sodium intake per day — well within the natural regulations of your tastebuds!  The FDA’s current recommendation is 2.3 grams per day for healthy young adults and 1.5 grams per day for blacks, those with health problems, and older adults.

One of the only studies ever to suggest a relationship between salt consumption and increased illness and death was the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which found rates of illness and death related to salt intake increased only among the overweight.  (The study used “personal recall,” not urine samples, to estimate salt intake.)  In other words, the study found that if you eat too much salt and you’re overweight, you have increased risk of illness and death as compared with those who are not overweight.  Again, to use our skydiving analogy: If you wear skydiving gear and you go skydiving, you are more likely than someone who does not go skydiving to die in a sky-diving related accident.  Common sense tells us that the gear is irrelevant to this equation.

By choosing one component of processed foods to vilify (in this case, salt), the FDA gives food manufacturers an escape route.  Lawmakers want to pass laws that seem to support health — but they don’t want to lose the backing of powerful corporations.  Blaming salt is an excellent compromise for lawmakers and food manufacturers.  If such regulations limiting sodium become law, food manufacturers can simply pump their products full of artificial flavors and additives that mimic the taste of salt, label these Frankenfoods as “low sodium,” and voila — problem solved!  Whereas chefs who use real ingredients — including the age-old and time-tested seasoning of salt — will have much more trouble abiding by such regulations.

Another win for food manufacturers, and one more step in the wrong direction for American health.

The bottom line on salt?  Leave your food prep to nature and to human beings — not machines and scientists — and you should be just fine.

Photo Courtesy: Leigh Beisch for Sunset.