Salt Wars: The Phantom Menace

Salt, when you hear the word, what thoughts come to mind? “Too much salt is bad for me.” Or, “That reminds me, I’ve got to check my bid on Ebay for that Elvis salt & pepper shaker set that I simply must have.” Heck, maybe you even have one of these lines, “My grand daddy lived to the ripe ole’ age of ninety-six and he put salt on everything from pasta to pickled pigs feet.”

That pretty much sums up salt’s MO. Lot’s of people who think it’s bad and limit their exposure to it, and then there are others who dump it on everything. As for Dr. Fuhrman, he’s no fan of salt. In fact, he considers it to be one of the seven worst foods for health and longevity. Here’s all seven:
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Potato Chips and French Fries
  • Doughnuts
  • Salt
  • Sausage, hot dogs
  • Pickled, smoked or barbequed meat
Now not everyone shares Dr. Fuhrman’s disdain for salt. Rather, some “diet experts” basically endorse consumption of salty food. Take Dr. Atkins for example, he’d like people to use salted pork rinds as a substitute for dinner rolls and toast—and for making pie crusts! No, I'm not joking. Check it out over at
Atkins rivals the creativity of the raw-food chefs of today in his uses for pork rinds. Pork rinds are chunks of pigs’ skin that are deep-fried, salted and artificially flavored. He recommends people use them to dip caviar. Or, perhaps for those who can't afford caviar, one can use fried pork rinds as a "substitute for toast, dinner rolls...You can use them as a pie crust... or even matzo ball soup (see our recipe on p. 190)."[144] Matzo balls made out of pork rinds?--now that is a diet revolution!
You’ve got to wonder about recommendations like this, especially since according to Dr. Fuhrman salt consumption has been linked to the development of stomach cancer and hypertension. Consider this excerpt from Eat to Live:
Any excess salt added to food, outside of what is contained in natural foods, is likely to increase your risk of developing disease. Salt consumption is linked to both stomach cancer and hypertension.1 For optimal health, I recommend that no salt at all be added to any food. The famous DASH study clearly indicates that Americans consume five to ten times as much as they need and that high sodium levels over the years has a predictable effect on raising blood pressure.2 Just because you don’t have high blood pressure now doesn’t mean that you won’t. In fact, you probably will have high blood pressure if you keep eating lots of salt over the years.
So, what happens when dangerous diet information is put out there? The masses eat it up. For example, from Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb here’s Jimmy Moore’s take on salt:
Unless you are salt-sensitive (and it just so happens that I am!), there is no reason why you should watch your salt intake. An overwhelming majority have no reason to cut down on their salt intake. NONE! The fact that a minority of the population has sensitivity to salt should not make this a universal recommendation.
Luckily for Jimmy, he’s “salt-sensitive.” So he is limiting his exposure to it, but saying that the majority of people have no reason to avoid salt, well, that seems a little misguided because in addition to the hypertension and stomach cancer risk, Dr. Fuhrman associates salt intake with osteoporosis and heart attacks. More from Eat to Live:
Salt also pulls out calcium and other trace minerals in the urine when the excess is excreted, which is a contributory cause of osteoporosis.3 If that is not enough, high sodium intake is predictive of increased death from heart attacks. In a large prospective trial, recently published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, there was a frighteningly high correlation between sodium intake and all cause mortality in overweight men.4 The researchers concluded, “High sodium intake predicted mortality and risk of coronary heart disease, independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure. These results provide direct evidence of the harmful effects of high salt intake in the adult population.”
Now these dangers are clear, but arguably the biggest problem with salt is it shows up where you least expect it to. Sure, you can crack down on your habit of burying every meal in it, but, that’s only half the battle. Sally Kuzemchak of Prevention magazine explains that the main problem with salt is that it’s everywhere:
It's crammed into cheese slices and canned vegetables and sprinkled into cinnamon-raisin bagels and sandwich bread. You can consume a day's worth of the mineral with an order of mu shu pork with rice from your local Chinese restaurant, according to an analysis by the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest, in Washington, DC. As much as 80% of the sodium we get every day comes from these processed and prepared foods—not the salt shaker.
Sally also points to additional research highlighting the dangers of high-sodium diets:
There's also evidence to suggest that high-sodium diets may up the risk of gastric cancer. And in a small study from Colorado State University, a high-salt diet (more than 5,000 mg per day) worsened lung function in people with exercise-induced asthma, which occurs in as many as 90% of asthmatics. A low-salt diet improved it.
Information like this really makes you wonder how Dr. Atkins could endorse eating salty snacks like pork rinds. Now, the concern over people’s salt exposure is growing. Back in September Melanie Warner of The New York Times reported that the American Medical Association wants the government and the food industry to limit the amount of salt that can be used in food production. More from the report:
Specifically, the medical association, which had never before called for regulation of a food ingredient, asked the F.D.A. to revoke salt’s long-time status as a substance that is “generally recognized as safe,” a classification that warrants little oversight. Instead, the F.D.A. should regulate salt as a food additive, the medical group said.

If the recommendation were adopted, packaged-food companies would have to adhere to limits on allowable sodium levels for various categories of food, and speed up the search for an alternative to salt as a preservative and flavor enhancer.
What I take away from all this is more evidence of people’s emotional attachment to food, in this case salt; when you talk with Dr. Fuhrman he often refers to this phenomenon. Sometimes people are so blinded by their emotional crush on certain foods that they can’t face facts. The evidence shows that salt is bad for us, but, I guess some people just can’t stand the thought of a lonely pepper shaker.
Continue Reading...

Are Dairy Products the Answer to Osteoporosis?

Written by Dr. Fuhrman’s colleague Anna Quisel, M.D. for the July 2003 edition of Healthy Times:
As a woman and a breast-feeding mother, I almost feel guilty when someone asks, “You don’t drink milk? How do you get your calcium?” As people learn more about the problems associated with osteoporosis, interest in calcium is skyrocketing. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the dairy industry has done a terrific job of promoting dairy products as the only adequate dietary source of calcium. Dairy products are far from the solution, and may very well be a cause of the problem.

Adequate amounts of calcium are necessary for high-level health. Calcium is necessary for heart muscle contraction, skeletal muscle contraction, the action of most hormones in the body, and bone strength. Because calcium is so crucial to survival, our bodies carefully regulate the amount of it in our blood. We even have a back-up reservoir of calcium available at all times—our bones.

Calcium reservoir
To keep a constant level of calcium in the blood, our bodies are continually adding and removing calcium to the bloodstream. When there is extra calcium in the bloodstream, the body removes some of it and stores it in the bones. When there is too little, the body takes calcium from the bones and adds it to the bloodstream.

It works like this: When serum calcium levels fall, a hormone called parathyroid hormone, produced in four small glands attached to the thyroid gland, stimulates osteoclasts. The osteoclasts break down bone and release calcium. When calcium is plentiful, a hormone called calcitonin, made in the thyroid, stimulates osteoblasts, cells that store calcium by building bones.

For a long time, scientists thought this was the whole story—if you don’t get enough calcium, your body will withdraw calcium from your bones, and eventually you will develop osteoporosis. But the story is turning out to be more complex.

High intake, weak bones
Much to the chagrin of the dairy industry, scientists have discovered that more calcium isn’t better. In fact, the countries around the world with the highest rates of calcium intake—including the U.S. and Canada—have the highest rates of hip fractures among the elderly. The largest source of calcium in these countries is dairy products. In one of the largest studies of diet and health ever undertaken in the U.S., the Nurse’s Health Study, researchers found that high total calcium intake and milk consumption did not protect against osteoporotic fractures.1 In a comprehensive review of all studies of dairy intake and bone strength in 2000, researchers concluded “that the body of scientific evidence appears inadequate to support a recommendation for daily intake of dairy foods to promote bone health in the general U.S. population.”2

Japanese women have lower total calcium intake than U.S. women at about 400-500 mg per day from soy products, vegetables, and small fish bones—yet they have lower rates of hip fracture despite having smaller bones.3 So high calcium intake alone, especially when the source of calcium is dairy products, does not ensure bone strength. Even bone mineral content (the amount of calcium- phosphate in bones) does not necessarily determine risk of fracture. This mineral-content finding is very important because physicians currently assess risk for bone fractures using x-ray measurement of bone mineral content.

Building strong bones
Adopting an Eat to Live-style diet is crucial for strong bones. Vegetables, beans, fruits, and nuts are the best sources of calcium, potassium, vitamin K, magnesium, and vegetable protein, as well as the phytochemicals (such as isoflavones) and micronutrients that are gaining recognition as important for bones. Keep in mind that the current U.S. daily calcium recommendation of 1200 to 1500 mg for postmenopausal women is an attempt to offset the ill effects of the typical vegetable-and nutrient deficient American diet, which is laden with salt, caffeine, and junk-food. Sadly, even this attempt to flood the body with extra calcium to compensate for poor nutrition has not been proven to prevent fractures.4 (Check out Get Some Veggie Calcium for good sources of calcium.)

Weight bearing and resistance exercise are extremely important to bone strength, and can reverse osteoporosis even in postmenopausal women.5 Walking is particularly important to hip bone strength.

Vitamin D might be more important to bone strength than calcium. Vitamin D promotes the uptake of calcium from the intestines and also increases bone building. The sun is probably our best source of vitamin D. Vitamin D needs are probably met with 15 minutes of exposure in the middle of the day three times per week. Many studies have shown that vitamin D supplements increase bone density in postmenopausal women; however, a recent comprehensive review of the subject determined that the efficacy of vitamin D supplements had not been proven.6 If you haven’t had your vitamin D blood levels checked, you might consider it so that you can increase your sun exposure or add a supplement if necessary.

Avoid toxins. The ingestion of animal protein—especially when combined with low vegetable intake, steroids, caffeine, cigarettes, vitamin A (retinol—found only in animal foods, fortified foods, and vitamin pills), and salt all have been associated with weak bones.
Continue Reading...