Mayor Bloomberg’s A-Salt On Science

      40 Comments on Mayor Bloomberg’s A-Salt On Science

The last time I had a checkup, my blood pressure was 111/65.  It’s pretty much always in that range, but the nurse who checked it seemed pleasantly surprised and commented, “You must watch your salt.”

Well, of course I watch my salt.  I don’t like cleaning up spills.  So I watch carefully as I shake little blizzards of salt onto my eggs, steaks, pork chops, vegetables, salads, soups and stews.  Yesterday, when we stopped at a McDonald’s during the trip home from Illinois, I salted my mushroom-Swiss burger.  Truth is, I put salt on just about everything except cheese and fruit.  I guess that explains why my blood pressure is about 20 points below average for a man my age.

And I’m not the only who reaches for the salt shaker at mealtime:  according to news reports, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg puts so much salt on his bagels, they end up tasting like pretzels.  He puts extra salt on salty popcorn.  He even salts his pizza.  Clearly, Hizzoner loves salt.

So naturally, he recently announced a plan to “encourage” (ahem, ahem) restaurants and food manufacturers to reduce the salt in their products —  to help prevent heart disease and strokes, doncha know.  Amazing, but typical for a politician.  Sure, I love my salt … but the rest of you folks out there should cut back on the stuff, and by gosh, I’m going to help you do it.

I’m not sure which annoys me more:  the bad government or the bad science.  This is certainly a bit an overreach for the mayor of New York City.  As a New York Times article explains, Hizzoner hopes his plan will reduce salt intake across the country.

Excuse me?!  I wouldn’t live in New York City if you paid me, and I certainly wouldn’t vote for Bloomberg if I did.  How did he end in my charge of my salt consumption?  We all know he has presidential ambitions, but he should probably wait to win a national election before assuming office.

Perhaps hoping to avoid looking like the nanny-state busybody he is, Bloomberg announced that the salt reductions are “voluntary.”  Suuuuuure, they are.  If any two words in the English language don’t belong in the same sentence, they are 1) government and 2) voluntary.  As George Washington wrote, the essence of government is force — that’s why he considered government a necessary evil at best.  Anyone who thinks reducing salt will be strictly voluntary should read this passage from the New York Times article:

The city’s campaign against salt resembles its push to cut trans fat from restaurant foods, which began with a call for voluntary compliance. When that did not work, the city passed a law to force restaurants to eliminate trans fat.

In other words, you better volunteer to follow our guidelines, or we’ll force you.

The science is just as bad, for all kinds of reasons.  Take a look at the rationale behind this “voluntary” reduction:

The plan, for which the city claims support from health agencies in other cities and states, sets a goal of reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25 percent over the next five years.  Public health experts say that would reduce the incidence of high blood pressure and should help prevent some of the strokes and heart attacks associated with that condition.

Public health experts are such wild optimists.  The only result we can reliably predict from reducing the salt in packaged foods is that there will be less salt in packaged foods.  I seriously doubt people will eat less of the stuff.  In fact, I predict the public reaction over those five years will be something like this:

Year One:  Hmmm, this is kind of bland.  Hand me the salt shaker, will you?  (shake)
Year Three:  Wow, this is tasteless.  Pass the salt, will you?  (shake-shake-shake)
Year Five:  What the @#$% is this, cardboard?  Give me the salt!  (shake-shake-shake-shake-shake)

And even if the public is fooled into consuming less salt, there’s no evidence the result will be fewer strokes and heart attacks. Back in 1998, Gary Taubes wrote an excellent article on the subject titled The (Political) Science of Salt.  It’s a long article, but here’s my synopsis:

Some scientists claimed they found a teensy bit of a correlation between salt intake and cardiovascular disease decades ago, so they announced the “salt kills!” hypothesis and have been doggedly defending it ever since … even though many other scientists have found no correlation whatsoever, as well as mathematical problems with the correlations reported in the first place. 

Sound familiar?  It’s just like the “science” behind the “saturated fat kills!” theory.  And once again, shortly after the theory was announced, the geniuses in government decided they’d better alert the public right now instead of waiting for actual scientific evidence to confirm it.  That confirmation never came in, but uh … well, you know … we already told ’em to cut back on salt, so we’d better keep promoting the idea. 

All we know from the evidence is that cutting back on salt will result in slightly lower blood pressure for some people with hypertension.  We don’t know that it will save their lives.  For the rest of us, it’s probably worthless and might even be a bad idea.  Here are some quotes from Gary’s article:

University of Copenhagen researchers analyzed 114 randomized trials of sodium reduction, concluding that the benefit for hypertensives was significantly smaller than could be achieved by antihypertensive drugs, and that a “measurable” benefit in individuals with normal blood pressure (normotensives) of even a single millimeter of mercury could only be achieved with an “extreme” reduction in salt intake. “You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” says Drummond Rennie, a JAMA editor and a physiologist at the University of California (UC), San Francisco, “that the [NHLBI] has made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”

After decades of intensive research, the apparent benefits of avoiding salt have only diminished. This suggests either that the true benefit has now been revealed and is indeed small, or that it is nonexistent, and researchers believing they have detected such benefits have been deluded by the confounding influences of other variables.

There is a correlation between hypertension and cardiovascular disease, by the way.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean hypertension causes cardiovascular disease.  The correlation could be explained by any number of other variables, such as:

  • Refined carbohydrates produce high blood sugar and high levels of insulin, which in turn are both bad news for your arteries.  Refined carbohydrates also cause water retention, which raises your blood pressure.  (So if you really want to reduce your blood pressure, give up the sugar and starch.)
  • Blood pressure tends to go up as we get older.  (Mine hasn’t, but bear with me here.)  We’re also more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes as we get older.
  • Stress causes your body to produce more cortisol, which can damage your arteries.  Stress also raises your blood pressure.
  • Eating lots of vegetables may be good for your heart.  Vegetables are also high in potassium, which lowers blood pressure.

Even if hypertension causes cardiovascular damage all by itself, the clinical evidence says it takes an extreme reduction in salt intake to budge the blood-pressure meter.  Mayor Bloomberg’s “voluntary” 25 percent reduction isn’t exactly extreme.  It’s just a recipe for bland food.  It won’t do diddly for the city’s health.  (Excuse me, I meant the nation’s health.  The mayor also wants to help those of us unfortunate enough to live outside his jurisdiction, you know.) 

Even the usually pro-government New York Times seems a little dubious about Bloomberg’s latest attempt to regulate us into eating the way he thinks we should:

While most food companies say they agree at least with the goal of reducing salt, some medical researchers have questioned the scientific basis for the initiative, saying insufficient research had been done on possible effects. While agreeing that reducing salt is likely to lower average blood pressure, they say it can lead to other physiological changes, some of which may be associated with heart problems. An elaborate clinical trial could weigh the pluses and minuses of cutting salt in a large group of people. But that would cost millions, and it has not been done.

Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the city’s initiative, if successful in reducing salt, would amount to an uncontrolled experiment with the public’s health. “I’m always worried about unintended consequences,” he said.

Yup … like that uncontrolled experiment that told everyone to cut back on fat, and had the unintended consequence of sparking an epidemic of type 2 diabetes.  But my favorite sentence in the article is this one:

The city’s salt campaign is in some ways more ambitious and less certain of success than the ones it waged against smoking and obesity.

Less certain of success?  How exactly are we defining success here?  Were Hizzoner’s campaigns against smoking and obesity successful?  Have thousands of New Yorkers given up smoking?  Did those calorie-count menus Bloomberg demanded inspire them to eat less and lose weight? 

I must’ve missed those headlines.  I guess I was too busy looking for the salt shaker so I could add some flavor to my eggs.

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40 thoughts on “Mayor Bloomberg’s A-Salt On Science

  1. Jm Purdy

    I have high blood pressure. But I never add salt, and I already have “below normal” levels of sodium in my blood.

    So what should I do? Should I add more salt, just to get my lab results up for my blood salt level, and risk even higher blood pressure? Or should I go even lower on salt, in an effort to get my blood pressure down?

    Or should I avoid both those extremes, and try to lower my blood pressure by losing weight? Or should I just leave things alone?

    Seriously, I don’t know what to do. And I’m not sure that the self-proclaimed experts know what they’re talking about either. Maybe my sodium intake has nothing to do with my blood pressure.

    The 50 Best Health Blogs

    Sodium has very little relationship to blood pressure. Losing weight and restricting carbohydrates will both likely bring your blood pressure down.

  2. Laurie

    Hi, I read the Taubes’ article “The (Political) Science of Salt”. It’s informative and long, but there are some pretty pictures and illustrations. After I read GCBC I found as many articles of his to read that I could and I watched ever online lecture by him available. Comedian Jim Gaffigan had an hysterically funny segment on the glory of BACON. It was mouth watering in his telling. He ended this masterpiece with, “but bacon is bad for you.” and something like “it’s a shame that a donut is more healthy for you for breakfast than bacon”. It’s upside-down, opposite world. It’s not the salt and fat that’s bad, IT’S THE SUGAR AND THE WHEAT!!!!! HAND ME THE SALT AND LARD.

    I love Gaffigan’s bit on bacon, but yes, too bad about that conclusion. Bacon is also one of the foods I don’t assault with salt. It’s perfectly salty as is. For those who haven’t seen Gaffigan (bacon bit about two minutes in):

  3. MikeC

    I suppose if we always prepare our own foods, we can use as much salt as we want (for now anyway).

    My BP was considered borderline high right before I started the 6WC. At the end of week 4 (after two weeks of almost nothing but meat and lots of salt), I gave blood so they took my BP first. It was normal/low. I think the guy even made a salt remark. I just smiled.


    My mom’s on BP medication. I keep trying to convince her to give up the carbs and see what happens, she keeps promising to give it a shot. She’s reading 6 Week Cure now, so I hope she’ll become convinced.

  4. Josh Goguen

    This is exactly why I get angry at anti-smoking laws. I don’t smoke. I don’t like the smell of smoke. I don’t like when people smoke.

    I do know that it doesn’t end with smoking. They’ll move on to something else, then something else. Eventually it’ll be something I do like, but there’ll already be a president to force this stuff on us.

    Even Dr. Dean Edell was critical of all those anti-smoking laws, for exactly the same reasons.

  5. Mike

    I’ve given up processed food, but I still eat about the same amount of salt. The difference is that now my food tastes much better.

    Quality food + quality seasonings = happier and healthier.

    I eat far less processed food than I did even a few years ago, but I’m like you; my salt consumption hasn’t dropped at all. I love the taste of it, and my blood pressure is fine, so I see no reason to give it up.

  6. Holly

    Thank you for this article! I sent it to my dad because he’s on 4 different kinds of BP medication. I told him to drop the carbs (he thinks cereal and french toast are ok – because they’re wholesome or something like that). Maybe he’ll listen to you because you’re not family.

    (BTW -update- I earned an A in my statistics class! Oh yeah! Lack of carbs never hurt my brain power.)

    Congrats on the stats class. And if it’s any consolation, my family (with the exception of my wife) doesn’t make much of my expertise either. I have to send them articles written by doctors that back up what I’m saying.

  7. Marc

    Wonderful 😉

    In all seriousnes, there has been a lot on the paleo blogs lately about “iodine deficiency/thyrod problems” form following a paleo/primal way of eating.
    I never restricted my salt intake and I’ve been eating paleo/primal for over 4 years now. I’ve not had any of the issues currently being talked about. Obviously you have not restricted salt intake either.
    Any thoughts you can share?


    I suspect I like salt because my body needs the salt. So I eat the stuff, whether or not it’s considered paleo food.

  8. Randy


    Is it possible than 75% of “standard diet recommendations” are “old wives’ tales?

    I don’t fear saturated fat or salt. If you haven’t already, think about a blog on fiber. I know the Eades’ first Protein Power had an entire chapter that was left out (due to space) dealing with fiber being way overrated. And I’m sure you’ve seen Dr. Mike’s classic blog from a couple of years ago:

    I read all of Dr. Mike’s posts. That was a good one. I think we can handle the fiber that comes with our fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc., but trying to jam extra fiber down the chute just for the sake of reaching a specified number of grams doesn’t make sense to me.

  9. SassaFrass88

    Great post! I agree that this is another great ‘myth’ in the cardiovascular disease rumor circles.

    This hits home for me, as my loving Godfather died of a heart attack. Guess what he did to his diet just months before his death? He cut out ALL salt and MOST of his dietary fat!

    Then, years later, his 37 yr old son died of a heart type incident. He had been admitted to the hospital immediately after his physical because he needed an emergency quadruple bi-pass! Guess when he died? Not more than a year later, he collapses during his morning exercise routine after cutting out ALL salt and most of his dietary fat!

    Educating everyone who will listen about TRUE health and REAL food is like vendetta for me against all those incompetent doctors and ‘officials’ whom do not know their asses from page eight!

    Thank you again Tom. 😀

    That’s what is so upsetting about all the bad advice out there: we’re misleading people into lifestyle changes that don’t help and may even be harmful. Sorry to hear about the son; 37 is way too young to check out.

  10. Debbie

    I’ve been low-carbing for four years now, very strictly for over a year. I’ve lost 100+ pounds, my salt intake is down because I no longer eat processed foods. And my blood pressure is still high! Just as high as it was four years ago before I started reforming my lifestyle. Sometimes it makes me wonder if LC is doing me any good at all other than for weight loss.

    If your health is improving in other ways, I wouldn’t worry too much about the blood pressure, any more than I’d worry about high cholesterol. The numbers can be a symptom of disease, but they are not the disease itself.

  11. Tony K

    Hi Tom,

    I’m working on a post about blood Pressure for Emotions for Engineers, so this post is really timely. There has been a lot in the news lately in the NY Times, LA Times, WebMD about how cutting salt can prevent 44-96k deaths per year. As far as I can tell this is based on a correlation between high blood pressure and the causes of death, along with a hypothesis that the hypertension is a causal factor.

    It seems that a NEJM paper and Bloomberg’s proposed legislation has catalyzed some salt activity.

    Have you seen or heard of any studies that demonstrate causality of cardiovascular disease resulting from hypertension? Taubes in GCBC says that he thinks it’s the insulin acting to raise blood pressure, which make hypertension just another symptom…

    It seems like it is “conventional wisdom” that HT is causal.


    I haven’t seen anything to convince me hypertension is the actual cause. I think it’s probably similar to the correlation with cholesterol; the real causes of heart disease raise your cholesterol and raise your blood pressure. I suppose there may be a bit of multiplier effect … if your arteries are damaged, high pressure may stress the weak points more.

  12. MrsBurns

    When I do buy canned ingredient-type food (tomatoes come to mind) I always by the no-salt version. Because then, when I cook, I can add RealSalt with no bleach, no anti-caking agents, and real, live minerals that I know our bodies crave. I assume that “food” processors would use the cheapest form of salt possible, which probably doesn’t include the iodine fortification found in table salt form. Iodine is critical to thyroid function, so if you’re eating a lot of processed food, even tho it’s salted, you might not be getting iodine.

    BTW, my husband and I watched Fat Head a couple of weeks ago via Netflix. Your presentation of insulin resistance and carbs helped him tremendously in understanding how his (insulin-resistant) body was dealing with his supposedly healthy snacking. And the cholesterol…..he’s almost evangelizing now. Fun to watch!

    Glad to know we made a convert of your husband. Let us know he progresses.

  13. Dave, RN

    I used to never use salt. As nurses, we’re taught that it’s pretty much evil. And it is, in the highly processed form that you see at the supermarket.
    I bought some of that Himalayan salt a few months back. It’s not processed, just mined and crushed basically. And it has all 80 elements that it’s supposed to have, as opposed to being pure Sodium Chloride, it’s balanced as nature intended. It’s pretty darn tasty, and it doesn’t take much either. Yea, it cost me $15.00 for a kilo of it, but that canister will probably last me 2 years or more.
    As as sodium in the system goes, there is a pretty narrow range of what that level can be. Go either direction from that very narrow range and you’re going to be really sick… or dead. It’s not like some of the other numbers where there can be a huge range. That alone tells you that it’s not the salt…

    I’ve heard Himalayan salt is good. I keep forgetting to go look for it.

  14. Amy Dungan

    I eat a lot of salt and my BP is really low. My husband teases me about barely being alive. While reading the part about studies proclaiming salt kills, my mind suddenly envisioned CSPI announcing “Heart Attack In A Shaker!”

    I believe they chose “The deadly white powder.”

  15. Aaron

    People have been chiding me ever since I was a kid for dumping “too much” salt on my food. Recently, I’ve also been adding sea salt to my drinking water for adrenal and thyroid health. After all that, my latest blood tests showed my sodium level at the very low end of the acceptable range. Obviously, salt != sodlum != hypertension, etc.

    I’ve always been a salt freak, and I’ve always had low blood pressure. Since I’m more of a VB guy, I’ll state it as salt <> sodium <> hypertension.

  16. Kimberly Birch

    First, I want to say that I love New York. I will always be a New Yorker, even though I now live in Los Angeles. But this just makes me sick! I too used to have high blood pressure, but when I cut the carbs and lost the fat, my blood pressure went back down to normal. I never changed my consumption of salt to achieve this. How dare Bloomberg try to force nutritional changes without the science to back it up! Interestingly, I don’t see him trying to ban sugar. Not that I would be in favor of that either. But at least that would have some scientific basis

    New Yorkers need to fight back, and fight back hard. This trend is getting way out of hand.

    I enjoyed the culture and variety of New York City both times I was there, but I’m done living in states or cities run by people who believe citizens exist to support the government.

    Someone on the city council here in Franklin proposed banning hurricane fences to improve the look of the city; the mayor replied that it might indeed improve the look of the city, but it’s not the government’s role to tell citizens what kind of fences they can have. Now that’s a mayor I can support.

  17. AllenS

    I donated blood a few weeks ago, and my BP registered at 90/60, as is usual for me. The nurse looked shocked and then commented that I must really restrict my salt intake and exercise furiously. I do neither and told her so. That earned me a dirty look. I was afraid that if I told her about my low carb/high fat diet that they would have rejected my blood out of hand. During a donation a few years ago my BP measured 80/50 and my pulse was 45. The nurse told me that she thought I had died while waiting. 🙂

    That reminds me: the only time I was turned away from giving blood was once during my vegetarian days. I flunked the iron test.

  18. Theresa

    Loved seeing Fat Head. My partner and I have been doing low carb for about six weeks. We have lost around 6 kg’s each. He is on statins, blood pressure pills and metformin. His BP and blood tests last week show everything has dropped and blood sugar is almost normal.

    As for the salt, there’s got to be someone behind the scenes planning on making money from it.
    Butter is bad – hello margarine and vegetable fat spreads
    Sugar is bad – aspartame
    Salt is bad? I’m sure the makers of fake salt flavouring are working hard out in their chemical labs as we speak!

    I’m sorry to say I tried a salt substitute for awhile back in the day. It was awful. That experiment didn’t last long.

    I hope your partner continues improving. Tell him I said congratulations.

  19. Diana

    Celtic Sea Salt has proved to be essential to my health. After taking prednisone for a few years, my blood sugar and blood pressure were high, and I was swollen and very uncomfortable most of the time. Doctors then prescribed diuretics; I was still swollen and then developed gout. After weaning off the prednisone and diuretics, I was still swollen. I read about using real salt instead of the refined junk for gout, acid reflux, edema, and many other conditions, and after only two days, all of the swelling was gone, even in my ankles!

  20. KD

    At the risk of leaving room for a ‘that’s what she said’ joke, I love really, really salty meat. I sometimes use, but don’t require any other seasoning other than sea salt (the packet salts taste off– who knew packets of salt needed ingredients other than sodium chloride?). I make carnitas and throw a ton of salt on them, and that’s it. The salt on my meat is pretty visible to the extent that I’m sure others would find it too salty, but there are few things as tasty as the fat/salt combo.

    You can spot the salt sitting on top of my steak by the time I’m done with the shaker. Salty, fatty meat is one of my favorite flavor combos. (Insert joke here.)

  21. D.

    During my 3 pregnancies back in the 70s I had dangerously high blood pressure, to the point that I was hospitalized twice with my last pregnancy. I was told to cut way back on salt._It didn’t help. Restricting salt back then got me in the habit of not salting foods, which changed my taste for salt. I am not concerned on how it affects my bp, but if I get too much salt, I retain water in my feet and hands. My solution to this is taurine (I read about this in one of Dr. Atkins newsletters I received years ago, he used taurine instead of diuretics for his patients with congestive heart failure). I can honestly say that it works fine, it actually works best if you take it on a regular basis.

    This is how taurine works, quoted from Wikipedia: “In the cell, taurine keeps potassium and magnesium inside the cell while keeping excessive sodium out. In this sense, it works like a diuretic. Because it aids the movement of potassium, sodium, and calcium in and out of the cell, taurine has been used as a supplementation for epileptics as well as for people who have uncontrollable facial twitches.” Taurine in the diet comes from seafood and red meat, so perhaps those who follow a low carb diet have naturally lower bp from the taurine they consume.

    Taurine is also essential for the health of cats; without it they will go blind. Just an interesting side note, btw.

    Tom, you have one of the most interesting blogs out there. You are right up there with Dr. Eades. Both of you are entertaining as well as informative. Thanks for keeping us well-informed.

    Very interesting about the read meat. I certainly consume plenty of that.

  22. Gita

    I read somewhere that it is the refined salt that causes problems for people, that the Celtic or Himalayan salt is very healthy and helps to lower blood pressure.

    I don’t seem to have problems with any kind of salt, but I want to try Celtic or Himalayan out of curiosity.

  23. Lynda

    Hey Tom – I was looking at a New Zealand nutritionist’s website today (my friend is thinking of doing her program) and found this page of recommended articles. I am amazed to find all of this common sense information on a website that I thought would be pushing low fat/high carbs… the message is getting through!!

    Interesting reading – of and the “heart tick” she is speaking about is any product that is approved by the NZ Hear Foundation to have less salt, sugar, fat etc. A load of bologna.

    Nice to know the tide’s turning a bit. Lots of good articles on that site.

  24. Phil

    You might want to check out the latest “Nutrition Action” from your friends at CSPI, if you are in need of an idea for a skit or article. Following a sermon on salt (I skipped that), The lead article is about demon sugar, and that I read and found at least some implication that there are indeed some concerned scientists in the office. What jumped out was their recommendation. Just skimmed this part, but they recommend that a person follow the pyramid (whole grains, lean meat and veggies) to get all but your daily allotment of discretionary calories, 200 for a woman for example. The breakthrough comes with the recommendation that you only drink half that allotment in sugar and get the other 100 calories from, er ah, “solid fat”! Keeping in mind that in their December issue they called what you and I know as saturated fat “artery paste”, I can’t help imagining the discussion that must have taken place in the editor’s office while they tried to figure out what term to use without actually recommending that people ADD saturated fat to their diet!

    Interesting concept, getting 100 calories from sugar. I don’t get any of my daily calories from sugar. I guess it’s a slight ray of hope that they’re willing to admit 11 grams of “solid fat” won’t kill you.

  25. Deb

    Regarding the iodine deficiency discussions on low-carb and paleo sites- the deficiency results from not eating ENOUGH iodized salt. This happens to people following primal/paleo bacause they switch to (non-iodized) sea-salt or himalayan salt for the multi-mineral benefits (and to avoid the aluminum in refined commercial salt). Personally I either use iodized sea salt or eat seaweed for extra iodine. (I also eat WAY more salt since going low carb/paleo and my blood pressure has remained normal).
    The government originally decided to iodize salt to correct/prevent american iodine deficiencies (goiter). So now for most americans 25% less salt means 25% less iodine. Enforcing the use of less salt could result in pop-up of iodine deficiencies in the american population yet once again.

    That’s probably the type of effect the doc had in mind when he talked about unintended consequences. Nutrients don’t operate in a vacuum; they’re interelated.

  26. Sonia

    Hooray for this post! I have been low-carbing for about a year but still felt vaguely uncertain about my salt-o-holic ways. I reasoned that I must eat less salt now that I’ve given up processed food.

    Re: Bloomberg- this is totally ridiculous. Being served under-seasoned food in a restaurant really aggravates me. I rarely eat out but when I do I expect the chef to season the food!

    I wouldn’t worry about the salt. The anti-salt campaigns were based on research that’s about as weak as it gets.

  27. Lawrence

    Hey Tom. Isn’t there a worry that too much salt causes water retention? I believe it has something to do with an imbalance of electrolytes, but if you eat too much salt then it causes water to be stored in your tissue excessively.

    Isn’t that another reason not to have too much salt in your diet?

    That is the concern, but there are a lot of factors involved. Potassium from vegetables balances sodium, drinking plenty of water helps prevent water retention (counter-intuitive, but apparently true), caffeine is a diuretic, carbs encourage water retention so cutting back on them has the opposite effect, etc. I wouldn’t drink salt water, but the amount of salt I put on my food doesn’t seem to cause any problems.

  28. Sarah

    I have a couple questions for ya, Tom. I’m a fan of the low-carb lifestyle and your movie.
    Do you think that women have a tougher time with low-carb than men do? I know my bearded, chunky dad loves the taste of salt, grease, beef and cheese, and it boggles my mind why he always turns down my offers of sweets. But me and my Mom both have sweet tooths and like carbs more, and we both don’t even really like the taste of a greasy, salty food.

    And second, can you include beans and legumes into a low-carb diet? Or are refried beans and transfat-free peanut butter really a bad idea?

    I have noticed that more women than men seem to have a sweet tooth. Maybe it’s something hormonal; I can’t say for sure.

    Beans and legumes are a tricky matter. If you like them and tolerate them well, then it’s a matter of staying within your limits for starches. I don’t seem to tolerate them very well and generally avoid them. There’s some concern that the lectins can lead to leaky gut problems, which in turn can lead to autoimmune problems.

  29. Aunt Wie

    It’s not a big surprise that

    a) they think they need to tell everybody what to do, and

    b) they have no idea what they’re doing themselves.

    Now to the really important questions that arise from your well-though-out and beautifully written piece.

    1) Mc Donald’s has a mushroom-Swiss burger? Really!!?? and

    2) How do you manage to eat one of those without the bun to hold it all together? I’ve tried it with other burgers and it is not a pretty sight.

    Oh, and yes, Sarah, the sweet tooth is heavily influenced by hormones of various sorts, and it’s often much more powerful in women. I promise it gets easier if you cut out nearly all the carbs for a while. Really and truly. Cross my heart.

    The mushroom-Swiss is one of their Angus third-pounders (which recently won the Food Porn award from the goofs at the CSPI). I just ask for it without a bun. They usually wrap some lettuce around it and put it on a plate. I eat it with a knife and fork — after adding salt.

  30. Dana

    My grandfather died of a stroke in 2007. He had high blood pressure. He was diabetic. My father is, I believe, hypertensive as well and on meds for it. He is also diabetic. My ex-husband’s grandmother had congestive heart failure when I knew her (she’s passed on now), including hypertension. She was diabetic. Somehow I don’t think the conditions are unrelated.

    I don’t have a *chronic* problem with blood pressure per se, but I know how I feel when it’s elevated, thanks to a tooth problem I had several years ago that had me in such agony the pains were shooting around to the back of my head. Went to the ER because it was the middle of the night and my BP was 140 over something or other. Since then, when I have been eating like crap and become really, really stressed out about something, I feel different like I did back then, and if it’s *really* bad, I get the shooting pains again. Haven’t had those in a while now since certain stressors left my life, but I’ve had the weird feeling. And it is always when I’ve been eating more carbs than I ought to.

    Just a data point, I figure lots of people have similar stories to share.

    Re: smoking bans, since it was brought up: I want a public smoking ban, not because I care whether someone smokes or quits but because if I wanted to be a smoker, I would have taken up the habit myself. Even if there is zero risk to me as a nonsmoker inhaling someone else’s smoke, doesn’t matter, it’s a frigging drug and I don’t want it, or else I would be smoking. Plus, these people smoke around my child, and she’s not eighteen, so she’s too young to smoke. If no one cares that kids being exposed to cigarette smoke isn’t a great idea, there’s always that argument. It’s the law, don’tcha know.

    If you smoke at home that’s your affair, although I take a dim view of people who smoke around their kids. When I was married, the ex was a smoker and he’d go outside. Even he understood. Too many smokers don’t. When it’s in public it becomes a public problem and at that point it becomes my business if I’m out in public too.

    So yeah. Ban the hell out of it. From the bars too. There are nonsmokers who like to go out on Friday and Saturday nights. Here in Ohio we’ve solved the problem by allowing private clubs to operate which permit their patrons to smoke on the premises. If you’re not a private club, you’re outta luck.

    There’s just no reason to ghettoize people in their own homes just because they never took up a nasty, unhealthy habit with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

    Re: mayors doing this boneheaded thing that Bloomberg’s doing, don’t forget to make a distinction between local, state, and federal laws. If it’s not covered by the federal Constitution and it’s not covered by state law and if local law allows for it, then a mayor certainly *can* do it. That’s something else I do not understand, how people can go “that’s not constitutional” when I doubt they’ve ever *had* a look at their state constitution, much less their local city code.

    Anyway. My hypothesis about this little boondoggle is that if it goes through, you’re going to be seeing a lot more food poisoning cases in the Big Apple. Salt retards bacterial growth, you know. Probably the reason they use so much of it in restaurant and industrial foods to begin with.

    I don’t have an issue with the government banning smoking on government property. But for a bar, it should be up to the bar. That’s private property. No one is forced to work there or go there. I personally benefit from those bans — I don’t like smoke-filled rooms, either — but I’m still against them on principle.

    A comedy club where I was once a regular had smoking nights and non-smoking nights, plus the early shows on weekends were non-smoking … everyone was happy with that arrangement. (And I couldn’t help but notice that the non-smoking audiences tended to be smarter.)

    States and localities were indeed intended to have the freedom to pass their own laws. Unfortunately, Congress often passes laws it has no Constitutional authority to pass, negating local laws in the process. So New York City has the authority to be stupid. They just shouldn’t exercise it. That’s why I was impressed when our mayor refused to ban hurricane fences. He could have done it, but decided that’s not government’s job. It’s one of the reasons I love Tennessee. No elected official from the ruling party in California ever thought anything wasn’t government’s job.

  31. Dana

    Oh, I should add that with that public smoking ban we have here in Ohio, you can still smoke *outside* as long as you’re not right next to a door where people are going in and coming out. So it’s not like a choice of either stay home or don’t smoke at all.

    Although I think they’ve also banned it from bus shelters… about time too, I remember several years ago having to step outside a bus shelter with my daughter in her sling one day when it was raining because some idiot lit up without even asking. But dear God in heaven we had to fight over the ban three times at two different levels of government because we were “violating” smokers’ “rights.” Whatevs.

  32. Steve

    Thanks for this post again Tom! As always, very interesting. Couple of points for ya though.

    I too, love that mushroom and swiss angus third pounder from mcD’s, but upon looking at the nutrition information (thank you Fat Head movie!), it is said to have like 2 grams of trans fats. As do most of the best tasting things on their menus. Do you think that this is due to the bread, or the cheese? Or… could it actually be some of the very few naturally occurring trans fats from animal protein (some foods have small amounts of them, like some cheeses and even beef)? Obviously you ate all sorts of fast food items at McD’s for the film, and you LOST fat and all of your levels were great afterwards, so I would assume that it’s not too bad. Just wondering what you think of this?

    Thanks a bunch!


    A small percent of the fat in cattle — dairy fat included — is a naturally-occuring trans fat. Even the CSPI fear-mongers noted that the small bit of trans fats in McDonald’s burgers is the natural kind.

    They were still frying chicken in trans fats when I did the fast-food diet, so I also consumed the nasty man-made stuff. I’m sure that explains the one negative effect: my HDL went down during that month. Soon as I went back to natural saturated fat, it shot back up.

  33. Steve

    Thanks Tom! Now I can stop worrying when I feel it’s necessary to stop @ McDonald’s to grab a quick (cheap) bite. I will get a few McDoubles sans buns.
    Have a good week.


    You too.

  34. Candace

    It depresses me to hear people talk about how terrible salt is… I’ve always used and enjoyed it. About a month ago I switched from salted to unsalted butter though, and now put generous amounts of Celtic sea salt on everything (Celtic sea salt is about 20 percent trace minerals… as nature intended)… no “purified” table salt ever if I can avoid it. Before I’d had some problems with edema but it seems like they’ve gone away. This salt has a much nicer taste too 🙂

  35. Candace

    Oops maybe not 20% trace minerals… mistype. It is high though. In Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” there was a side bar where she talked about salt… the “impurities” in nature sea/rock salt like potassium and magnesium can be sold for a lot more to scientific laboratories than if they’re left in for us.

    I think that’s what happens with a lot of nut oils, too. They squeeze it out, sell it separately, then add cheap oils to the nut spreads.

  36. Jack Reylan

    Bloomberg needs to pay more attention to hygiene. Workers step on and handle food surfaces whil supposedly protecting us by cleaning. Kids spread filth by clothes swabbing floors. Pigeons fly around delis crapping. One guy threw away food when the container fell to the floor then put the empty container in the pantry without cleaning it. Today’s workers thingk hygiene is silly. They used to teach you about these things in grammar school but today it seem spatronizing.

  37. Evin

    Here’s another idea: a lot of high-carb processed foods are high in salt, so maybe that explains some of the alleged correlation between salt and high blood pressure.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Indeed, sugary foods are the more likely culprit for high blood pressure.

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