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Jun 3, 2012 10:23 PM


There's an article in NYT now telling that our thoughts about the benefits and costs re salt are not what we have been led to believe

I'm ready to keep an open mind on this but what bothers me from the outset is there seems to be a rather bad possible confusion between 'salt' and 'sodium.'

I have understood that Sodium is the gangster and that one may consume 'salt' in the form of KCl - MgCl etc. with more 'freedom.'

(I myself use a Jozo-brand salt with 70% less Sodium


So - does KCl provide the benefits of 'salt' implied in the article? Is it indeed NaCl specifically with the problems?

Anyone familiar with this?

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  1. Gary Taubes will likely be reviled for this article; once again he exposes conventional diet wisdom for the fraud that it is. These two exceprts say it all: "...the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”" and "This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. " Substitute just about any campaign for anti-salt that is presented as scientific fact and should be embraced by everyone (don't eat fat! don't eat eggs! coffee is bad for you! alcohol is bad for you! no, wait.....) and the same attitude is exhibited. You just gotta be skeptical of something presented as fact.

    2 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      Little is ever actually presented as fact when one reads carefully. Usually, a correlation is noted and conclusions are implied. When attention is paid, it's not hard to discern the relevance.

      1. re: janniecooks

        "Meet the new orthodoxy, same as the old orthodoxy"
        I often wonder how much we have really changed since the Vatican locked up Galileo back in 1633. We have refined out methods but really, groupthink does seem to be as strong as ever, even when it is wrong.

      2. Yes, it's sodium that's been portrayed as the culprit. But there's a mounting body of evidence that it was falsely convicted. A relevant post from last summer:

        5 Replies
        1. re: eclecticsynergy

          eclectc: - seems to be unreachable - what was the gist of the article? other references? thanks

          1. re: jounipesonen

            The link still works for me. But here is the text of my post from last Summer (2011) that the link led to.

            While it's probably true that those with hypertension ought to avoid egregious excesses of salt, there is a mounting body of evidence that low-salt diets do not prevent high blood pressure and actually increase the risk of death from heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore, recent overviews looking at 11 longterm and 57 shorter-term trials found that even extreme interventions with drastic reductions in sodium intake produced only minimal reductions in blood pressure, "like going from 120/80 to 119/79."

            I've done some reading on this subject since it came up in the MSG thread awhile back. The link between salt and high blood pressure is very unclear- it's largely based on a study from the 1970s where a researcher who clearly wanted to achieve a particular outcome found that he could increase blood pressure in lab rats. But he had to feed them a ridiculously huge dosage- the human equivalent would be 500 grams, that's half a kilo of sodium! Bear in mind that's pure sodium, not salt. To get that much sodium, one would have to be eating about two and a half pounds of table salt every day! Presently the average American consumes about 8.5 grams of salt daily, less than one hundredth of that amount. Yet he claimed "unequivocal" evidence of the link. Since then the idea has been taught in every medical and nursing school, every nutrition and diet course. Today most doctors and politicians have accepted this idea as fact and thoroughly internalized the concept, and don't recognize the many scientific studies which contradict it. I'll give the doctors the benefit of the doubt and assume most of them simply haven't heard about this research yet- many scientific and professional journals have, until recently, been reluctant to publish results which contradict this long-established belief.

            Yes, this is a controversial issue and there is a great deal of skepticism, since "everybody knows salt causes high blood pressure." But the science is saying it doesn't. Of all the research done on the subject there hasn't been a single study where salt has been shown to cause this condition in healthy people. And the reason it may be bad for those with hypertension isn't some sinister arcane chemistry- it's just that salt makes you retain water. That's it.

            Much recent research, including an 8-year study published this year in the journal of the AMA, shows not only that there's no link between sodium intake and the development of hypertension, but that those with the lowest consumption of it were the most likely to die of cardiovascular disease. A second modern study found that those who consumed the most salt actually had lower median blood pressure than those who consumed the least. And back in 2001 another found that those eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat substantially reduced their blood pressure, even when salt intake was maintained.

            As to the high incidence of heart attack and stroke in some places like Japan where average salt consumption is rather high, when variations in sodium intake within these populations have been analyzed, there's no correlation with cardiovascular problems, indicating that other factors like genes or cultural stress levels are probably responsible.

            There is a very small percentage of the population for whom sodium intake does indeed directly affect their blood pressure. These rare individuals are classified as salt-sensitive, and the condition is unusual enough to be considered an anomaly, possibly genetic.

            Michael Ruhlman on salt: "Given that it's fundamental to our existence (without it we literally die) and that it helped to create both stable stationary societies and world travel (food preservation and therefore surplus in a community or on a ship), our main failure would be to undervalue its importance and power. It is powerfully good and useful; but also, anything so powerful can be used harmfully (as in our processed foods, where salt hides and slips unrecognized into your body)."

            Finally, a recent article in Scientific American, It's Time To End The War On Salt:

            1. re: eclecticsynergy

              The link took me to the SA wedsite, but not to that article. When I did a search there on salt, I got 4 items in the last couple of years. While I got that article, there was an interview explaining what the issue might not ever be settled, a CDC warning about salt, and bit about an study that pointed to an adrenaline (and nervous system) link between salt and high blood pressure (as opposed to the water retention idea).

              1. re: paulj

                Yah, interesting. That other article about the adrenaline factor hadn't yet been published at the time I wrote the post above.

                Here are links to both the SA articles (I think the links will take you directly there, but can't be sure how long they'll work) for those who might want to read them:



                1. re: eclecticsynergy

                  I recall a publication years ago that stated that primary aldosteronism was a rarely considered, but frequent cause of ER visits for hypertension emergencies. Aldosterone is an adrenal steroid that regulates electrolyte balance. Unfortunately, folks are usually just given drugs to treat the symptom and rarely evaluated for the cause, hormone imbalance.

        2. With respect to your question about sodium vs salt:

          In the article you've linked, 'salt' (and the discussin of its effects) refers to NaCl, not salts of other alkaline metals. Sodium is indeed the topic of debate. It's popular journalism, so he writes about sodium in the form that it's most commonly consumed and in the language that most readers will understand (in most people's minds, 'salt' = NaCl specifically).

          Potassium chloride and magnesium chloride are 'salts' as far as chemistry is concerned, but they won't have the same effects on your body as NaCl. That isn't to say that they're better or worse for you. In any case, the article does not speculate on the value or dangers of replacing NaCl with other salts, but instead on the wisdom of avoiding sodium in general.

          12 Replies
          1. re: cowboyardee

            yes - am aware of the chemical background as am a chemical engineer. - but the whole article is not at all clear and since salt IS available in non-Na forms, distinction should be made with a LOT more sophistication

            1. re: jounipesonen

              Meh - I think it's basically acceptable to use 'salt' to refer specifically to NaCl in an dietary article for laymen. A tangent about non-sodium salts would just confuse things. Just seems a pretty arbitrary bone of contention to me.

              To elaborate on my answer to your question - other salts do not function the same as NaCl in your body. And frankly, I'd be hesitant to replace NaCl in my diet with other salts before doing a good bit of research. Potassium, for example, is something that your body needs and usually can eliminate minor excess, but it can be extremely dangerous (read: potentially fatal) if you ingest too much, at least if you have various underlying heart or kidney conditions. I personally haven't researched replacing sodium salt with KCl, so I can't do much more than speculate based on what I know offhand about potassium, but I'd still be wary.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Well basically I think people who are offering advice in columns etc should just get their terms straight and if they are talking about costs and benefits of a substance they should use the term that refers to that substance and in this case it would seem to be Sodium - NOT 'salt'

                That then leaves people to do their own research and see where Sodium is contained (eg Sodium Bicarbonate, etc.)

                Overall there is plenty of solium in our diets and cutting back on 'shaker salt' and processed foods shouldn't be any danger to anyone. Potassium is also an essential element - and indeed the Na/K blance is an important one.

                My point in this whole post was to bring up what undoubtedly is a throwing around of terms and labels in a rather careless manner. I also would have some serious doubts about Mr. Traub's actual implications about not needing to be cautious about 'salt' intake (if he is referring to Na). I believe Harvard SPH has rebutted those not seeing dangers in Na consumption.


                1. re: jounipesonen

                  There are no terms and labels being thrown around in a careless manner here. Taubes is writing for a newspaper, not a scientific journal. The article is about "salt" (sodium chloride) because that is the form in which sodium is most commonly added to foods. He is not writing here about potassium. That it (along with many other elements) is important is not relevant.

                  1. re: jounipesonen

                    From the HSPH item
                    "Seventy-five percent of Americans’ sodium intake comes from processed foods. (16) "

                    which given Taubes's position on sugar and its presence in processed foods, makes me wonder why he's expending energy on the salt issue.

                    is the source for that 75%. From its abstract:
                    'European and Northern American countries, sodium intake is dominated by sodium added in manufactured foods ( approximately 75% of intake). Cereals and baked goods were the single largest contributor to dietary sodium intake in UK and US adults. "
                    Aren't cereals and baked goods a major source of sugars? At least soda drinks aren't very salty.

                    1. re: paulj

                      "Expending energy on the salt issue"?

                      He's a writer. We have a free press. He may write on any subject he pleases, and The New York Times may publish any article which suits them. No justification is required.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        and a writer that likes to tilt at establishment windmills.

                        1. re: paulj

                          This is not the first thing that he has written about salt. Even before focusing on sugar he wrote a 'news focus' item in Science, August 1998
                          And Harvard SPH responded to that as well. Actually there were quite a number of responses in the next month

                          1. re: paulj

                            Your second link requires a subscription.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Then subscribe and tell us what they wrote. :)

                              I included it to show that there was some controversy at the time. I haven't seen any professional replies to his latest piece.

                    2. re: jounipesonen

                      The Harvard SPH link is geared towards rebutting an argument based on one specific 2011 study. It's not really any more substantiative than the Taubes article (though it does correctly identify sodium as the topic of debate).

                      In a very basic sense, a reasonable critique of the case against dietary sodium involves these two major points, both of which the Harvard SPH link glosses over:

                      - The data from years of research linking sodium ingestion to elevated blood pressure isn't as strong as it might be. There have indeed been positive correlations made, but those positive correlations have not shown particularly large increases in blood pressure or that those increases in blood pressure are of a lasting nature.

                      - Much more problematic, there is little to no data linking high (but plausible) sodium or NaCl intake directly to increased morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease for the overwhelming majority of the population. Nor has there been any strong data linking lower intake to decreased morbidity or mortality despite decades of medical advice to lower intake. Recently, a couple studies seeking to correlate sodium intake directly to cardiovascular events and mortality seemed to find some indications (though not conclusive) that LOWERING one's sodium intake correlated with worse outcomes.

                      Do either of these points mean that a high sodium diet is better for you (or even as good for you) than a low sodium diet? No. The case for sodium isn't any stronger than the case against it, if you ask me. But they're serious, glaring holes considering that the 'low sodium is best' advice has been largely unquestioned as medical dogma for decades.

                  2. re: jounipesonen

                    "Salt" in common parlance, as here, means NaCl.

                2. Secret: NOTHING is what we're led to believe, including salt.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: beevod

                    Scientists tend to present themselves as 100% correct in the present theories. It's just all those PAST theories that were wrong. heh.

                    1. re: PenskeFan

                      No. The media reporting on science, politicians and policy makers who use science to justify their agenda, and practitioners who base their practice on science tend to present the science as 100% certain. If anyone is willing to admit that the science is uncertain, it's the actual scientist conducting the research. This is, in part, why scientists keep testing these things rather than resting on their laurels. There are a few exceptions in cases where the scientific evidence is overwhelming, but controversy is manufactured anyway via pseudoscience (theory of evolution, for example).

                      Let's not turn this already problematic thread into a gleefully-beat-up-on-scientists-just-for-the-fuck-of-it trainwreck.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              Exactly. The vast majority of ill will towards science and scientists can be directly blamed on the media reporting on the science than the science itself.

                              It never ceases to amaze me - you see some big paper in a journal, and then the science oriented blogs & mags pick it up, ain't quite the same. But THEN it finally percolates down to mainstream news and it is often not even remotely the same story being told.

                                1. re: PenskeFan

                                  This is a sweeping accusation without a shred of documentation to back it up.

                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    you may have missed the "heh" , which tend to not to be part of "sweeping accusations". Not sure what kind of documentation is expected to be provided to a joking comment, but some people here need to take a chill pill.

                              1. First of all it would seem Taubes is full of .... until he DOES give at least some popular science background. And he better convince Harvard SPH as well as other Public Health institutes.

                                And when he does publish something more credible he better say that it is SODIUM he is talking about because we get a lot of sodium which is NOT in 'SALT' - and then if he says we need 'salt' then he also better say WHAT salt - some of the electrolytic benefits of 'salt' may be coming or could come from OTHER salts than NaCl. He is writing in terms of advice so people should be getting hints at possibly using OTHER salts than what is in the common parlance, thank you.

                                In any case, Taubes article is pretty shabby in content - as well as offering possible dangerous sensationalism that is NOT fully documented.