Maybe a little of both — along with a bit of controversy
Just in the past week, I have heard two bits of good news about salt—in both the New York Times (see link below) and in Dr. McDougall’s new book. The Times ran an article by Gary Taubes, the author of Why We Get Fat and an independent investigator for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Taubes points out that while almost all the experts have agreed in recent decades that we should eat less salt, the evidence supporting that mass agreement has been somewhat flimsy. From his article:
Although researchers quietly acknowledged that the data were “inconclusive and contradictory” or “inconsistent and contradictory” — two quotes from the cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, a leading proponent of the eat-less-salt campaign, in 1967 and 1981 — publicly, the link between salt and blood pressure was upgraded from hypothesis to fact.
In the years since, the N.I.H. has spent enormous sums of money on studies to test the hypothesis, and those studies have singularly failed to make the evidence any more conclusive. Instead, the organizations advocating salt restriction today — the U.S.D.A., the Institute of Medicine, the C.D.C. and the N.I.H. — all essentially rely on the results from a 30-day trial of salt, the 2001 DASH-Sodium study. It suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure; it said nothing about whether this would reduce hypertension, prevent heart disease or lengthen life.
Enter Dr. John McDougall. In his new book, The Starch Solution, Chapter 12 is entitled “Salt and Sugar: The Scapegoats of the Western Diet.” He basically makes the case that if salt and sugar improves your chances of sticking with his improved starch-based (mostly whole plants) diet, then you should not be afraid to use them. As he says:
Scapegoating salt and sugar deflects attention from the real problems: meat, dairy, fats, oils and processed foods.
While researching for our book, I learned that we only need 50 mg./day, and that the maximum intake of sodium in our diet should not exceed 2,000 mg/day. But our love affair with the “problem foods” mentioned above has resulted in an average daily consumption closer to 4,000 mg. And most of that pile of salt is from the problem foods, not from the salt we might sprinkle on our cooked foods. The same logic applies to the small amounts of sweeteners we might add to our coffee or food.
In my case, I do not keep salt or sweeteners in my house and I have not missed them at all. I’m sure I get all the sodium I need from my low-sodium popcorn or occasional V8 Juice and from the many whole plants that contain it. But as Dr. Mcdougall says, the inclusion of a little salt and sugar just might be the “tipping point” that enables many to actually stick with the health-promoting plant-based diet.
The Bottom Line. If we’re eating the right food (mostly whole plants), we’re getting very little salt from the problem foods mentioned earlier and a little bit of salt or sugar on food we cook at home is not going to hurt that much. We frequently see the phrase, “salt to taste” in many recipes. Maybe it should say, “try it first without the salt, then add salt if you prefer.” For me, I no longer need it—or want it.
One reason I no longer need it or want it is because of my Kirkland “No-salt organic seasoning” that I have been using for the last few months. Need more information; here are a few relevant posts on this subject.
- The Starch Solution. Dr. McDougall’s new book—my review
- An earlier blog about salt. Omega-3, sodium & potassium—Think ratios
- An earlier blog about sugar. Sugar Kills! — Dr. Sanjay Gupta on “60 Minutes”
- The New York Times article. We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt
Handy 3-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com
- The movie that’s changing the lives of millions: Forks Over Knives DVD
- Our book: Healthy Eating, Healthy World by yours truly & son
- An essential nutrition resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.
—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation