Almost three years ago, I questioned the declaration by FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg that Americans needed to eat less salt.
“The current level of [sodium] consumption is really higher than it should be,” said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. That’s why they’re preparing “voluntary guidelines” for the food industry encouraging them to stay below certain salt levels.
While the guidelines will initially be voluntary, health groups are lobbying for mandatory standards — lobbying that will only grow more intense if businesses refuse to comply once the standards are released. If businesses don’t go light on the salt “then FDA should start a process of mandatory limits,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson.
At the time, I replied as follows.
For FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg to say that salt consumption is “higher than it should be” implies that she knows how high salt consumption should be. But the fact is that science has not credibly established how much is the right amount of salt, or how much is too much.
In the three years since I wrote that, a number of studies have been published showing that a low-salt diet is actually worse for health than is a moderate or even high-salt diet. The latest evidence comes from the Framingham Offspring Study, an extension of the famous Framingham Heart Study, one of the most prestigious and well-funded long-running health studies. Notwithstanding the assertions of FDA commissioner Hamburg, the Framingham study “implies that most Americans are consuming a perfectly healthy amount of salt,” and more remarkably, that “lowering sodium intake doesn’t reduce blood pressure.”
Consuming fewer than 2,500 milligrams of sodium daily is actually associated with higher blood pressure…
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, equal to a teaspoon of ordinary iodized table salt.
High blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Hence, lowering salt intake is supposed to lower blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. But the study found that supposition to be unfounded.
Moreover, the lowest blood pressure was recorded by those who consumed 4,000 milligrams or more a day — amounts considered dangerously high by medical authorities such as the American Heart Association.
Let that sink in. The Framingham subjects who had salt intake levels that the American Heart Association considers “dangerously high” actually had the lowest blood pressure.
The lowest readings came from people who consumed an average of 3,717 milligrams of sodium and 3,211 milligrams of potassium a day.
The report directly contradicts advice from the American Heart Association, which recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day to reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association is a dubious organization that proffers a lot of bad advice and takes money from the soft drink industry.
And also the federal government, of course, is on the misguided anti-salt bandwagon.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that sodium intake be lowered to 2,300 milligrams per day for the general population. The report is a joint project of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and of Agriculture.
As for Margaret Hamburg, she stepped down as head of the FDA in 2015. Has she at any point apologized for attacking the dietary habits of Americans without knowing all the facts? Probably not, since I presume she is pretty busy defending herself from a federal racketeering lawsuit that was filed against her last year. The suit alleges that she engaged in a conspiracy to approve dangerous drugs in order to benefit her husband’s hedge fund.
I have no idea if the charges are true or not, but however it turns out, I retain little trust in the people who occupy positions of authority in America today, especially political appointees like Margaret Hamburg. Take what they say with about 57.36 grains of salt, or 3,717 milligrams. That should keep your blood pressure down.