If you reduce the sodium content of cookies you bake (or talk someone into baking for you), they won’t explode. I have data! We’ll get back to this.
There seems to be debate these days about almost everything we thought we knew about nutrition and health. There is the argument that sugar, and more specifically fructose, is toxic and the one thing fundamentally wrong with the modern diet—and there are opposing views, mine among them.
There is the argument that excess sodium may be the single most important liability of modern eating, accounting for some 150,000 deaths a year—and opposing arguments. There are the time-honored arguments for the importance of the calorie, and arguments that calories don’t really count.
I maintain, however, through all the sound and fury, much of which signifies nothing more than a theory du jour, that we are NOT clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens. The basic pattern of healthful eating is very well-established, and convincingly evidence-based. And the health benefits attached to such a pattern are profound.
That pattern—foods close to nature, minimally processed, mostly plants—is inextricably associated with less sugar intake, less sodium intake, and lower calorie intake. So however important each of these trees is or isn’t, they are an important part of the forest.
Getting there from here would be a good thing, but it’s clearly something most Americans can’t figure out how to do. The fact that it’s so hard is not by accident—the food industry has done all it can to keep you lost in the dark woods of a profitable status quo.
Part of what the industry has done is to propagate an arms race—with your taste buds. Human taste buds are predisposed to like sweet—so putting sugar in food is apt to make people like it. Now imagine, though, that your competitor’s product is outselling yours because it has just a bit more sugar—what are you to do? Increase your own sugar content.
See where this can lead? More sugar means sweeter; sweeter means tastier; tastier means more sales. As manufacturers compete in this area, taste buds start acclimating to more, and more, and more sugar. The more they get, they more they want. And so we wind up with ever more sugar in our food partly because… We’re asking for it! We’re asking for it because our taste buds are desensitized to sugar the more they get, and need ever more to register satisfaction.
This same scenario applies to salt—and other properties of foods, too, such as creaminess. The more we get, the more we tend to want. The more we want, the more we get.
Personally, I remain convinced that excess sugar, sodium, and calories are harmful for most if not all of us. But whatever your point of view about sucrose, fructose, or salt, we should be able to agree on this: Whatever blocks our path to a basic, healthful dietary pattern is bad.
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