29 April 2010

It's the Salt

Occasionally when I come across something like a Newsweek or a Time I flip it open to see how many paragraphs in I can get before I close it in disgust.  This week I got through one sentence.

From their "The Index" section in the 3 May 2010 issue had this item 65% of the way from awful to awesome:
Salt: it makes food taste good, but it's killing us, so the FDA initiative to reduce our daily intake shouldn't be demonized as a "nanny state" measure.
That doesn't make any sense.  Just because a rule is good for you it doesn't make it any less nanny-ish.  I'd concede that a lot of nanny state rules are actually good for people.  The problem isn't that they're bad, it's that they're intrusive, coercive, ham-handed, authoritarian, presumptuous and meddlesome.  Paternalism doesn't stop being paternalism if it's good for some people any more than it stops being paternalism if the proposal has an even number of vowels in the title.

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While we're on the topic of salt you should read Jacob Grier's post.  He knows what he's talking about, especially when it comes to food, taste and the food industry.  Many good points there, but the only one you need to believe this FDA program is going to be a gong-show is in his conclusion:
As demonstrated by its actions against unpasteurized dairy and its threat to ban menthol cigarettes, the agency places little value on consumers’ choices when they conflict with regulators’ own assessments of acceptable risk. There’s no reason to believe the interests of regulators and consumers will be aligned on salt levels either.
The FDA is the Aunt Agatha of the federal bureaucracy: it crushes choice as surely as she crushed nephews.

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Grier links to columns by John Tierney in the NY Times from February about the utter ambiguity about the effect of salt in our diets. In the first he says "That’s the beauty of the salt debate: there’s so little reliable evidence that you can imagine just about any outcome. For all the talk about the growing menace of sodium in packaged foods, experts aren’t even sure that Americans today are eating more salt than they used to." The second leads off with "To salt or not to salt? To regulate right away or conduct more research first?" It appears the Obama administration — he of the "reality based community" — has chosen the regulate now, research later option. So much for policy guided by science and facts.

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Like most other problems (if indeed salt is a problem) this one will be solved by technology and not government.

PepsiCo, who I have always been told is some sort of evil multinational corporation bent on profitting from the obesity epidemic, and only one step above drug dealers pushing in school yards, has developed a way to grow salt crystals with a higher surface-area-to-volume ratio. This means they can put less salt on their chips and have them taste just as salty.  Wow, a corporation responding to consumer demand by creating healthier products.  I didn't those existed outside of Randian fantasies.
OhGizmo | Andrew Liszewski | Lay’s To Restructure Salt Crystals To Make Their Potato Chips Healthier

PepsiCo (who owns Frito-Lay, who makes Lay’s chips) researchers have developed a proprietary, and of course patent-pending technology, that allows them to reduce the amount of sodium in their chips by about 25 percent “with no impact on taste.” Research shows that standard cube-shaped salt crystals only dissolve about 20 percent of the way in your mouth, leaving the rest of the cube to be swallowed and dissolved later on in your digestive tract, where you can’t taste it.

But working with scientists from all over the globe, PepsiCo’s research team have found a way to restructure the standard salt crystal, making it dissolve more quickly in your mouth where it’s actually tasted. So you’ll need less of the stuff to produce the same salty flavor we all know and love. Apparently since the restructured salt crystals are still made of good ol’ sodium chloride, once they’re dissolved they’re no different than regular salt, so FDA approval isn’t needed. However, it will still be at least a year before the new salt starts being used in the company’s products.
Via GeekBrief

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