Should Salt No Longer Be Generally Recognized as Safe?

Because of its negative health impacts, salt should no longer be considered safe, and it’s generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status should be revoked, according to a petition by advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA has scheduled a hearing in response, where they will discuss revising their salt regulations, along with the implications of doing so.

In its petition, CSPI has recommended that:

  • Limits be put on the amount of salt in processed foods

  • Health messages related to salt be limited

  • Salt be treated as a food additive, not GRAS
Eating too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. More than three-quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed foods.

CSPI has petitioned the FDA about its salt regulations in the past, as well. In 1978 they asked for limits for sodium in processed foods, and in 1981 they suggested adding warning labels on packages of salt that weighed more than half an ounce. Both petitions were denied.

At the FDA’s hearing, scheduled for November 29, 2007, policies regarding salt and sodium will be discussed, and comments on current and potential future approaches will be taken.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Restricting salt in your diet is one of conventional nutrition’s most well-known mantras. Salt, they say, will contribute to high blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease.

While this may be true for certain salt-sensitive people, it doesn’t apply to most of you in the general population. No study on the general population has ever found an association between low-sodium diets and a reduced risk of heart disease or other diseases.

An eight-year study of people with high blood pressure living in New York, however, found that those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as those with normal sodium intake.

Why would this be? Because salt is essential for life -- you cannot live without it.

The problem with salt intake here in the United States has to do with the fact that more than 75 percent of it in the average American’s diet comes from processed foods, like fast food, packaged snacks, convenience foods, and restaurant meals.

And the salt that is used in processed foods is also the highly processed variety -- NOT the natural salt your body needs to function.

So the issue may be very similar to the vilification of saturated fat, which is typically consumed in many fast foods that are accompanied by large levels of trans fats.

The studies being used to support the reduction of salt have not carefully controlled for the confounding variable of the processed foods that they are typically consumed in.

The Difference Between Table Salt and Natural Salt

Having expressed my concerns for the findings of these recommendations I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not a fan of nearly all commercial processed salt. I personally seek to avoid using all processed foods whenever possible and rarely consume regular table salt.

You may not realize that not all salt is created equal. There is actually a major difference between the standard, refined table and cooking salt most of you are accustomed to using, and natural health-promoting salt.

Your table salt is actually 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals such as moisture absorbents and iodine. This salt is dried at an excessively high temperature -- over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit -- that actually negatively alters the natural ionic physical structure of the salt.

Moreover, when your body attempts to eliminate the excess processed salt, water molecules must surround the sodium chloride to break it up into sodium and chloride ions in order to help your body neutralize these ions. To accomplish this, water is taken from your cells, which tends to compromise the fluid balance in your cells.

You may be surprised to learn that for every gram of sodium chloride that your body cannot get rid of, your body uses 23 times the amount of water to neutralize the salt. Eating common table salt therefore causes excess fluid in your body tissue, which can contribute to:
  • Unsightly cellulite
  • Rheumatism, arthritis, and gout
  • Kidney and gall bladder stones
And most of you do eat way too much of this salt (90 percent of the money most Americans spend on food is for processed foods, and every one of these foods is loaded with unnatural salt).

The average American eats 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium chloride each day (and some of you even eat up to 10,000 mg a day). So this is really a pervasive issue.

So Should Salt be GRAS?

Salt is really one of the lesser evils out there, and the FDA would be much better served to remove MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, and many other artificial additives from foods before they focus on salt.

And even if the FDA lowers the salt content in processed foods, they will still not be fit for consumption, as far as I’m concerned. And food processors will not simply remove salt without replacing it with something, and that “something” could very well be worse for you than the salt.

So please understand, it is my strong recommendation to avoid loading up on the salt in processed foods.

I do think it’s perfectly fine, and even beneficial, to use a pure, natural salt, such as Celtic or Himalayan salt, to add flavor to your food. Natural salt is dried naturally, not chemically processed, and actually contains minerals that your body needs. Personally, I -- and most of my patients -- far prefer the pink Himalayan salt, but either one will do as they are unprocessed salts and are not associated with many of the problems of commercial salts.

If you are following the advice in Take Control of Your Health and have cut processed foods from your diet, then you will really have a hard time overdosing on salt, because all you’ll be consuming is what you personally add to your meals.

If you are curious to know whether you’re eating the right amount of salt for your body, a fasting chemistry profile that shows your serum sodium level can tell you. Your sodium level should be 139, with an ideal range of 136 to 142.

If it is much lower, you probably need to eat more salt; if it is higher, you probably should restrict your salt intake.
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