How Grainy Is The Salt Picture?

Sodium chloride is in the spotlight at the New York Times once again this week. John Tierney's column and blog post delve into what scientists really know about the effects of reducing salt in people's diets. It isn't just an academic question. A movement to cut sodium intake in the population at large is afoot. It's based on public health data that say lowering NaCl consumption in a population lowers blood pressure on average, and can thus reduce the risk of diseases such as stroke. And it involves chemists, from those trying to determine how we taste salt to those working on making salt taste enhancers. Since C&EN last blogged about this topic, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed an initiative to prod food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the amount of salt in their foods. It's not a new law, so compliance is voluntary. The latest from the Times asks whether it's even possible to get America to permanently cut its salt intake. Perhaps people would just eat more of everything, or go for saltier foods, to compensate, the article says. I would've liked to see a link to the report out of Britain that the column mentions. This report was said to conclude that Britain's more intensive salt-reduction effort is translating into a 10% decrease in daily salt intake, as measured by the amount of salt excreted in urine. (Now there's a job for the new guy in the lab..) I haven't found this report yet, but I will update if I do. I don't know much about public health, but the call at the end of the column for a randomized clinical trial on salt intake makes sense to me. I was surprised that this hasn't been attempted, and my cursory search at clinicaltrials.gov shows that researchers are trying, sort of. See here and here. Only one of the two trials appears to be randomized, and neither claims to be double-blind. More reading: The (Political) Science of Salt - reporter Gary Taubes delivers what I still think is the most measured assessment of the 'salt wars'. This article is over ten years old though, so take it as an introduction and read some more recent work, too. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies - the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Here you'll find reports and information about meetings on developing strategies for salt reduction. Searching the site for 'sodium' is a good start. The Salt Institute - a nonprofit organization of salt companies. Image: Shutterstock

Author: Carmen Drahl

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