With open season on salt, opponent adds spice to the debate

There go my Cheez-Its, my ramen and my imported olives. The new national plan to supposedly health us up has once again painted a bullseye on the consumer -- me in particular. Where can I turn for help as politics runs roughshod over choice, especially in an issue as debatable as salt.

I need a hero. I need Lori Roman.

As a mother of teenagers, Roman reacted to the national plan to voluntarily reduce the salt in foods with a dash of indignity.

"That's crazy," she said to WalletPop on Monday, when the guidelines were announced. "One of the only things I can do to get my kids to eat veggies is to put salt and butter on them."

Roman also happens to be executive vice president of the Salt Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocate for salt producers, so she has some righteous scolding for the nattering nabobs of NaCl negativity.

"There is a political aspect to this," Roman said. "Politicians decide what will be the villain of the day. Any evidence that conflicts with it is discarded. We've seen the same thing with global warming."

First, some background. New York City announced a plan Monday to slash the salt in foods sold within the five boroughs. This is the same megalopolis that brought you the trans fat ban, so you know they mean business.

City health poobahs are requesting sodium cuts ranging from 40% in canned vegetables to 20% in peanut butter, as the Big Apple spearheads the Salt Reduction Initiative covering dozens of regions around the country. The hope is to decrease the national intake by 25% in five years. Less hypertension and heart attacks, officials and doctors behind the plan say.

WalletPop reached out first to Morton Salt, one of the industry's movers and shakers. A spokeswoman declined comment and immediately put us in touch with Roman. Now we know why. If you lick the rim of a margarita glass, Roman's got your back. And she's got a message for those who embrace conventional wisdom in the medical community that salt is a killer: Season this.

Here are her main talking points. We are only the messenger:
  • Salt is good for you, researchers at the Salt Institute say. For a small segment of the population, it can slightly increase blood pressure. And that Finnish longevity study everybody talks about? It didn't prove that less salt was behind the improvement, Roman said.
  • What nasty chemicals will food manufacturers use instead of salt to make their food taste better?
  • There is evidence that a marked decrease in sodium intake can have adverse effects on the body.
  • Dr. Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Manhattan, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that the scientific community lacks convincing evidence on sodium's harmful effects. In the meantime, the city would be better off promoting weight control and exercise.
  • Low-sodium products do not sell well, which would leave grocers and restaurants in a financial bind and perhaps hurt us, the shoppers, on the sticker price.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers shrugged. Marlene Ciccone, shopping at a Brooklyn Met Foods, said. "Let me put it to you this way: Once the food is on the table, I don't add salt," she said to WalletPop. Eyeing the hot dogs, she added, "Salty, but I don't eat these everyday."

"I don't care," said Nidia Nola, cruising the meat section.

Mark, no last name please, eyed the Campbell's soup cans. He swore he's only been doing it since he arrived in America recently. "I'm from Europe," he said. "We don't buy canned food. We cook it ourselves."

Over at Union Market, a new gourmet store in Brooklyn, owner Martin Nunez told WalletPop, "We are already conscious of the salt we put in our prepared foods."

If ever Nunez needs to defend the prosciutto and sausage on display, Roman and the Salt Institute might be a good place to start.
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