FDA Cuts the GRAS on Salt

Here’s what we know.
1) Excess salt consumption is linked to heart disease and stroke.
2) The Food and Drug Administration wants Americans to have fewer heart attacks and strokes.
But their proposed solution to the problem is to consider changing the status of salt in the diet. The way they would do this is by revoking its classification — “generally recognized as safe”, or GRAS. This particular strategy was prompted by repeated petitions from groups who highlight the dangers of salt.

Michael Jacobson, for example, is the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and considers salt no less than complete dietary disaster. Salt, he warns, “is the single most harmful element in the food supply, even worse than saturated fat and trans fat, or food additives and pesticides.” Most consider this quite an overstatement, but he continues that this “forgotten killer” can cause 150,000 deaths each year. It was the CSPI that petitioned the FDA to remove salt from the GRAS list.

Of course, excess water consumption can kill you just as well, so should the FDA also cut the GRAS on water, and wine, and sugar, and everything you could possibly eat? In fact, there is no food on the planet that we cannot overconsume and make it bad for us in time. Thus, calling salt unsafe is overstated because salt is neither bad for us nor good for us until the moment when we either overconsume it, or eat it in control.

But this entire issue is a bit of a misdirection. The average person gets only about 8% of their sodium from the shaker – at the table or the stove. Another 10% exists naturally in your foods, but a whopping 75% comes from the sodium packed into processed food and “fast” food products.

This move by the FDA seems much less about the “recognized safety” of salt than as an indirect attempt to confront the food product industry without having to confront the food product industry. Such an approach is hoped to force food makers to replace the salt grenades (think Ramen Noodles) with some substitute not already linked to hypertension and stroke.

But would a straightforward strategy be out of the question? What if we – and I’m just throwing this out there – called salt safe and even healthy for us, until we eat it in massive quantities (think fast food). That way, food does not have to be labeled as the bad guy, no one need be confused about the source of hypertension, and the food industry can respond by putting less salt in their Noodles in the process.

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