Friday, August 22, 2014

Salt: More or Less?

Here is an interesting dilemma.  Within 24 hours CBS and NBC each posted an article on Americans’ salt intake.  One said it’s a problem and the other said it was OK.

CBS (at 4:27 PM on August 14) says we consume too much salt, almost three to four times as much as recommended and that it leads to high blood pressure and other problems.  “A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine says more 1.5 million heart-related deaths worldwide can be blamed on eating too much salt.”  Recommendations range between 1500 mg per day from the American Heart Association and 2300 mg from the FDA.  Later in the story they mention that another study addressed the problem of too little salt, but discount the findings of that study with a severe critique from their expert.  Then they go on to blame packaged foods for most of the problem, 65% from groceries, 25% from restaurants, and only 10% added at the table or in cooking.

Meanwhile NBC (at 5:02 PM on the evening before) told us that it’s not a problem.  They cite a different article from the same source, the New England Journal of Medicine.  “New research suggests that healthy people can eat about twice the amount of salt that’s currently recommended — or about as much as most people consume anyway.”  In a study of 100,000 people this study concludes that:  “people who consumed 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams per day had a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events than those who had more than 6,000 mg or less than 3,000 mg.” They, in turn, acknowledge the study cited by CBS, but their expert defends this too-little-salt study admitting some weaknesses, “but called it massive and said it ‘well might be the best data we’re going to get.’ ”  Their expert goes on to say that the study cited by CBS also had flawed data and concludes by pointing out: “Japan, one of the highest salt consumers, has one of the longest lifespans.”  Needless to say, the American Heart Association is not pleased with this idea and urges the FDA to ignore it.

The first question that comes to mind is:  Are we eating twice as much or three to four times as much salt as recommended?  Are they even using the same recommendations to compare?  The only place the two seem to agree is that if you are over 60 or already have high blood pressure, you should watch your salt intake.  Does anyone have an answer to this one?  A question that goes to the heart of the matter is: why does one network website choose to headline one study and interview an expert who promotes it and dismisses the other study, while the other network takes exactly the opposite approach?  Wouldn’t it be more honest, balanced, and “journalistic” to report the apparent controversy instead of picking sides?  Are they just competing to see which headline is more inflammatory?  It certainly shows that what we get is not necessarily news, but what the networks choose to report.  If this is the way they act one simple issue like salt, how can we trust them on others?

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