Dietetically incorrect: Salt edition

We are late getting to the news of a recent report commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control reviewing the purported health benefits of reducing salt intake. The report concludes that salt is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. The long-standing association of salt and hypertension in public health teaching doesn’t withstand scrutiny. I happened to catch Rush Limbaugh discussing news of the report yesterday (transcript here).

In his capacity as a general service operation, Glenn Reynolds has occasionally cited science writer Gary Taubes and linked to his book Why We Get Fat. Taubes recommends a low-carb/no-carb diet both for reasons of weight control and overall health.

Taubes’s first book on diet and dietary issues was Good Calories, Bad Calories. He returned to the subject in Why We Get Fat to condense his survey of the research and focus on obesity.

Taubes first made a splash with his 2002 New York Times Magazine cover story “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” The cover story displays his heterodoxy and bravado, challenging the medical establishment and government authorities with gusto. You can find more along the same lines in his 2007 New York Times Magazine article “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?”

Taubes is a formidable science writer. His approach is serious and methodical, taking account of the changing nature of the conventional wisdom and the studies that have supported it. He is also an excellent writer with a flair for interesting anecdotes that illustrate his thesis.

Taubes disputes the connection between dietary fat and high cholesterol. He challenges the thesis that dietary fat is detrimental to our health. He rejects a balanced diet. He advocates a high-fat diet. He opposes dieting. He doesn’t object to exercise, but he asserts that it makes you hungry. It’s almost funny. He is the dietary equivalent of politically incorrect.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, originally published in 2007, Taubes briefly disposed of the alleged connection between salt and hypertension. Taubes found the connection to be a “common assumption” based on “an erroneous deduction.” Reviewing the studies, Taubes quoted the eminent cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler describing the evidence in support of the salt-hypertension connection as “inconsistent and contradictory.” Taubes himself concluded that the link was “a suspect public-health pronouncement” that served to inhibit rigorous scientific research.

Taubes is a sober writer. I don’t think he is ever intentionally humorous in the two diet books. As we have previously, for the humorous take we go to Woody Allen. He anticipates something like the Taubes doctrine in his great comedy Sleeper (clip below).

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