I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks. Enjoy!
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I’ve always said that the research on salt is complicated, not least because it is so difficult to separate out the effects of salt itself from the junk food company it keeps. So a new British study provides some confirming evidence: kids who eat a lot of salt also drink a lot of soft drinks. Guilt by association! The effects of salt on hypertension also might be influenced by everything else in the diet. That’s why it’s so difficult to make sense of research on one dietary factor at a time.
Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to take away GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status for salt because of its links to high blood pressure. Yesterday’s USA Today did a story on this issue with some terrific graphics, unfortunately not shown in the online version. Missing is the pie chart showing the sources of salt in American diets: naturally occurring 12%, added at the table 6%, used during cooking 5%–and 77% in food processing! If you want to avoid salt in your diet, you have to avoid processed foods. American producers say they cannot remove salt from their products or nobody would buy them. Really? The Australians have managed to convince their food industry to reduce the salt. They’ve even achieved a 13% reduction in the salt in Vegemite!
The FDA has just announced that it will be holding public hearings on November 29 to discuss issues related to salt labeling. Right now, the FDA considers salt Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human consumption but petitions from Center for Science in the Public Interest and other groups are challenging that designation. Should the FDA instead regulate salt as a food additive? How could the FDA best use its regulatory authority to help Americans reduce their salt intake? Expect fireworks at this hearing as the various stakeholders–health advocates vs. industry–weigh in.