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 AtkinsExposed.org:
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.
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The Drug Companies Love Us

Of course they do, we have wallets and in them we have money. What’s not to love? Okay, so you remember last week’s post about the Super Bowl commercial with the guy in the heart suit getting his butted kicked? Now, hopefully when you read it you picked up on my smart-alecky tone. And why was I so annoyed?

Well, the commercial makes it seem like the risk factors for heart disease just sneak up on us. I don’t like that message. Dr. Fuhrman will tell you, chronic conditions don’t just happen. But in my opinion our society is conditioned to believe that they do. I don’t like that either.

So naturally I wasn’t surprised to read this report in The Washington Post. King Pharmaceuticals sponsored that Super Bowl commercial. And according to Sandra G. Boodman they have noble intentions—sorry I just threw up in my mouth a little—here’s some of the article:
The ad -- sponsored by King Pharmaceuticals, which makes a leading blood pressure drug known as Altace -- is designed to nudge viewers to take an online quiz developed jointly by the company and the American Heart Association. The quiz assesses individual risk factors for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease -- all consequences of long-standing hypertension…


… The goal of the ad was to "break through the clutter" and reach the largest possible audience, said Steve Andrzejewski, chief commercial officer for King Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Bristol, Tenn.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that drug manufacturers have our best interests at heart—no pun intended. The bottom-line is their bottom-line.

Diet-Blog: Are We Too Obsessed With Processed Food?

Okay readers. Let’s hear it, “Yes!” Just watch television for a few minutes and you’re bound to be bombarded with numerous ads for sugary breakfast cereals, reduced fat mini-cupcakes, or low-carb crackers. The industrial revolution never ended, it just shifted focus. Diet-Blog ponders our obsession with processed junk food:
Go to any grocery store, and you'll see rows and rows of shelves filled with processed food. Many boast various health claims – less sugar, more fiber, low fat, heart healthy – you get the picture…


… In my opinion, it's time to get back to basics and consume foods that will nourish our bodies. Then we might actually see a decline in obesity rates and our next generation might not die before their parents.
Now Dr. Fuhrman also has a gripe with refined foods, centering on their lack of important dietary fiber and nutrients. He elaborates on this in Eat to Live:
The reality is that healthy, nutritious foods are also very rich in fiber and that those foods associated with disease risk are generally fiber-deficient. Meat and dairy products do not contain any fiber, and foods made from refined grains (such as white bread, white rice, and pasta) have had their fiber removed. Clearly, we must substantially reduce our consumption of these fiber-deficient foods if we expect to lose weight and live a long, healthy life.


Fiber intake from food is a good marker of disease risk. The amount of fiber consumed may better predict weight gain, insulin levels, and other cardiovascular risk factors than does the amount of total fat consumed, according to recent studies reported in the October 27, 1999, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.1 Again, data show that removing the fiber from food is extremely dangerous.
For more on America’s obsession with industrialized food check out these recent posts:
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Seven Secrets of Longevity

From the March 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times:

A careful study of long-lived people and long-lived populations around the world—combined with a comprehensive understanding of animal experiments effecting animal life span—makes it clear that decisive action must be taken if we wish to retard aging and protect ourselves against the diseases of aging. (Check out Animal Fat and Cancer and Animal vs. Plant Foods and Heart Disease in Pictures.)

With so many conflicting theories and ideas swirling about, it is not surprising that there is mass confusion in the general population about what is healthy and what is not. However, there is nothing confusing about the scientific evidence regarding health. Health excellence, high-level mental and physical performance as we age, disease prevention, and longevity all are linked to certain well-documented behaviors. In short, health is the result of healthful living, and healthful living involves seven key concepts.

The human body has a built-in capacity for healing and rejuvenation. This inborn process can be inhibited by a variety of influences, such as personal habits and the environment. The best and most effective methods for renewing health are to follow the requirements of proper diet, wholesome environment, appropriate activities, and adequate sleep.

The idea that you can purchase health or longevity by taking Growth Hormone, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, or IV vitamin drips has not been backed up by animal or human studies. You simply cannot purchase longer life from a health food store or from an anti-aging physician who dispenses hormones. Food choice is the single most important factor effecting human health, and it is easily within our control. Good food choices, in combination with other important health factors, give you your best possible chance for a long and rewarding life.

The seven key concepts in longevity are listed below. Your best health insurance is to keep these guidelines in mind and to put them into practice. The finest health care in the world is proper self care—learning to live so healthfully that you can safely avoid hospitals, doctors, drugs, and surgery.

Today, many people in our society mistakenly think heart disease and cancer are the result of living longer—a natural consequence of aging. (A similar misconception is the notion that disease is largely genetic and beyond our control.) Healthy populations around the world see no heart disease or cancer in their eldest. Plus, there are no strokes in populations consuming natural food diets with no added salt.

Disease is not caused by aging. Disease is caused by those negative influences that stress the body over the years and lead to eventual cellular dysfunction and breakdown. Water dripping on a rock over thousands of years may eventually wear a hole in the rock. But it is not time that makes the hole; it is the water hitting the rock over and over. In a similar way, we create the diseases of aging through our behavior. Fortunately, we can just as easily create a long, hundred year life span, free of serious illness from birth to a gentle death.

Here's more from this DiseaseProof miniseries:

Heart Disease a Sneak Attack?

Okay, I know, it’s a bit of a hack move, but let’s talk about the Super Bowl commercials. Specifically the one where the guy in the heart suit gets his butt kicked. Now I realize its supposed to be light hearted, but the American Heart Association seems to be sending the message that things like high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight just sneak up on you, and, when you least except it—WHAM—you have a heart attack. If you didn’t see it, here it is:


Sure, the ad is encouraging people to help beat their risk of developing heart disease, but the way its presented really seems to imply that there’s nothing you can do about it, other than just hope that these bad things don’t happen—which in my opinion is the bad attitude that lands millions of people in the hospital with chest pains every year. What do you think? Maybe I'm wrong on this. Personally, I think the commercial with the bunny clicking the mouse was the best.

Fad Diets: Low-Carb the New Low-Fat?

What do you think? Is the standard American diet a problem? Now, I’m no health expert, but I can answer that—with a resounding YES! Just look at yesterday’s post The Standard American Shockwave, and you’ll see that everything the standard American diet touches turns bad. So then, what makes it so terrible? Dr. Fuhrman explains in Eat to Live:

The reason people are overweight is too little physical activity, in conjunction with a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet. Eating a diet with plenty of low-fiber, calorie-dense food, such as oil and refined carbohydrates, is the main culprit.


As long as you are eating fatty foods and refined carbohydrates, it is impossible to lose weight healthfully. In fact, this vicious combination of sedentary lifestyle and eating typical “American” food (high fat, low-fiber) is the primary reason we have such an incredibly overweight population.

Now if you consider the exercise component, the standard American diet becomes more complex. So, perhaps it should be more aptly named the standard American lifestyle. But, for the purposes of this post, let’s stay focused on diet and ignore the lack of sufficient physical activity. I know, kind of hard to overlook, but try.

Okay just diet, so let’s look at what we’ve got: high fat foods and various refined fare. Let’s start with the refined foods. What’s the problem with them? Well, Dr. Fuhrman will tell you, all the fiber and nutrients have been stripped out of them until they’re basically just empty calories. For more on this, I refer to Michael Pollan’s recent article on nutritionism. In it, he talks about the ebbs and flows of processed food. Here’s a peek:

The typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.

Now this brings me to the next topic of discussion, the high-fat portion of the standard American diet, but more specifically the mass media phobia of it; which is ironic because Americans deep down love their fat. A lot of industrialized foods make claims to be “low-fat” which in many cases I’m sure they are, but this begs the question, what about calorie content? Well to answer that, let’s take a look at this article from Men’s Health magazine. It reports that the low-carb fad is destined to follow the same road as the low-fat diet, and ultimately, forget all about total calorie consumption:

We've been here before - about 10 years ago, in fact. The last time a diet craze swept the country, it ushered in more than 3,000 new food products on the wings of just three simple words: Eat less fat. And yet, in the ensuing decade, the number of overweight Americans increased by 15 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and the average American man's waist size increased by an inch and a half. Weight management became even more difficult, because the supermarket became more confusing, and the three simple words that were supposed to squeeze us back into our wedding suits let us down, terribly.


And it's about to happen all over again. "Consumers think carb-free is calorie-free, which it's not," says Leslie Bonci, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "They think someone's giving them permission to eat that food. And what's going to happen is, we're going to see people start to gain weight."

In January of this year, more than 400 people who work in the food industry gathered at the Adam's Mark hotel in Denver for the first-ever LowCarbiz Summit to learn how they could profit from the new craving for low-carbohydrate foods. What they heard at the start was a warning from Fred Pescatore, M.D., a protege of Dr. Robert Atkins, the original low-carb guru: "We can't be like low-fat," he said. "We can't be just a fad."

And then, for 2 days, they learned ways to turn the low-carb craze into exactly that. In between snacking on low-carb foods and drinking Bacardi and diet cola (the official adult beverage of the low-carb movement), conference goers attended sessions like "Low Carb for the Nondieter" and "The Scientific Case against Low Carb: Know What the Industry's Detractors Are Saying and How to Respond."

Are you starting to see where I’m going with all this? Years back the country demanded low-fat everything. So what ensued? Decades of diet-books and food products proclaiming the benefits of a low-fat eating. And what did we get? Something now commonly referred to as the standard American diet, an epidemic of obesity and all the problems that go along with it; diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. And that’s not it.

We also got the avalanche of reactionary diets known as low-carb, South Beach, Atkins, or whatever catchy name some marketing company has come up with today. They basically say, “We’ve forsaken fat for too long! The real devil is carbs. Embrace the meat.” And we as a meat-loving, but fat-nervous culture eat it up. Why? Well because we recognize that the verson of the low-fat diet we have come to understand hasn’t worked. So why not give something that goes against the grain a try? Actually, the low-fat diet that has been forced down our throats all these years would more appropriately be described as the standard American low-fat diet. After all, how much better for us is it than the actual standard American diet? And how does it really differ?

But here’s the problem, and this why I think the Men’s Health article is right on target. The low-carb diet is now following the same path as the standard American low-fat diet. Lots of products touting the low-carb label—just like all the foods with the low-fat stamp of approval! And what are we left with? Tons of industrialized calorie-dense nutrient-stripped foods that people gobble up assuming they are eating intelligently, but all the while, not realizing that they’re consuming more and more empty calories. Isn’t this is exactly what caused us the problems we now have!

For me the answer is clear, realize that the average standard American diet and the standard American low-fat diet has failed, abandon all processed foods and their over-hyped claims, and perhaps most imporant of all, ignore the reactionary claims of the low-carb diet. How’d I arrive at this conclusion? That should be an easy one to figure out. I’m just regurgitating what’ve learned from Dr. Fuhrman. He’ll tell you, you want to lose weight, not consume too many calories, still get plenty of nutrients, and protect yourself from disease? A vegetable-based nutrient-dense diet is the answer. Just take green vegetables for example, look how they stack up against other foods. Check out this table from the Nutrient Density of Green Vegetables:

 
Nutrients present in 100-calorie portions
  Broccoli Sirloin Steak Romaine Lettuce Kale
Protein 11.2 gm 5.4 gm 7.5 gm 11 gm
Calcium 322 mg 2.4 mg 374 mg 470 mg
Iron 3.5 mg .7 mg 7.7 mg 5.8 mg
Magnesium 74.5 mg 5 mg 60.5 mg 97 mg
Fiber 4.7 g 0 4 g 3.4 g
Phytochemicals Very High 0 Very High Very High
Antioxidants Very High 0 Very High Very High
Folate 257 mcg 3 mcg 969 mcg 60 mcg
B2 .71 mg .04 mg .45 mg .32 mg
Niacin 2.8 mg 1.1 mg 2.2 mg 2.1 mg
Zinc 1.04 mg 1.2 mg 1.2 mg gm .55 mg
Vitamin C 350 mg 0 100 mg 329 mg
Vitamin A 7750 IU 24 IU 10,450 IU 23,407 IU
Vitamin E 26 IU 0 32 IU 34 IU
Cholesterol 0 5.5 mg 0 0
Weight 307 gm 24 gm 550 gm 266 gm
  (10.6 oz) (.84 oz) (19 oz) (9.2 oz)

And here's one more from Foods That Make You Thin:

Caloric Ratios of Common Foods
Foods Calories Per Pound Calories Per Liter Fiber Grams Per Pound
Oils 3,900 7,700 0
Potato chips of French fries 2,600 3,000 0
Meat 2,000 3,000 0
Cheese 1,600 3,400 0
White Bread 1,300 1,500 0
Chicken and Turkey (white meat) 900 1,600 0
Fish 800 1,400 0
Eggs 700 1,350 0
Whole Grains (wheat and rice) 600 1,000 3
Starchy Vegetables (potatoes and corn) 350 600 4
Beans 350 500 5
Fruits 250 300 9
Green Vegetables 100 200 5

I often wonder. If produce companies started sticking health claims on fresh fruits and vegetables and bolstered them with huge advertising budgets, would people finally realize that they’re the real health foods? Maybe so, because after all history would seem to predict that.

Pomegranates, Atherosclerosis, and Diabetics

The pomegranate is a bad mama jama and I mean that in the cool Shaft way. According to Dr. Fuhrman pomegranate juice can help lower blood pressure and reduce in atherosclerotic plaque buildup? Not to mention, it’s a powerful anti-oxidant and has strong anti-cancer effects. He discusses pomegranates at length in Pomegranate Power. Have a taste:
Recent medical research completed in 2004 studied heart patients with severe carotid artery blockages. They were given an ounce of pomegranate juice for a year, and not only did their blood pressure lower by over 20 percent, but there was a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque…1


…Pomegranates’ potent antioxidant compounds have also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation and naturally lower blood pressure, factors that prevent both heart attacks and strokes.2 Pomegranates contain high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, potent antioxidants offering protection against heart disease and cancer. A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, blueberries, and cranberries.
Here’s some more good PR for pomegranates. Apparently a new study has revealed pomegranate juice also reduces the risk of arthrosclerosis in diabetics. The Diabetes Blog is on it:
The results of this study suggest that the antioxidants found in pomegranate juice may be beneficial in reducing these heart-related risks associated with diabetes. The sugars in pomegranate juice are attached to unique antioxidants, which actually make these sugars protective against atherosclerosis. Researchers examined the effects of drinking a concentrated pomegranate juice that is the equivalent to about a 6-ounce glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for three months in 10 healthy adults and 10 adults with type 2 diabetes (who were not dependent on insulin therapy).
Perhaps the only knock against pomegranates is they can be hard to find. Take my farmers market for example, unfortunately they only have them a fraction of the year—argh! Anyone else have difficulty tracking down fresh pomegranates?

If you’d like to know more about pomegranates, check out these previous posts. They deal with pomegranates and prostate health. Take a look:
And for all of the foodies out there, give these pomegranate inspired recipes a try:
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