Danger: salt is back. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Danger: salt is back. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

No, wrong. America has a serious THINKING disorder.

See that white stuff raining down from my fingers? It’s salt. And it’s the way you should salt the food you cook on your stove top or the chicken that’s going into your oven. But if you listen to the ABC Nightly News reporting about The Dangers of Salt, aka ABC News acid reflux, and then read today’s NYTimes page one story saying that salt is not bad for you, you must be wondering who to listen to. Well if you are, just stop listening and think for your fucking self.

I have a dear friend who prevents his kids from drinking any milk other than nonfat milk but thinks nothing of serving them Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Seriously. (The nonfat milk issue is not uncommon, judging from the fact that my son’s friends marvel at the amazing quality of the milk we serve at our house—2%—which I still find a hypocritical marketing scam since good old-fashioned whole milk is 3.7% fat, but they don’t tell you that). Another dear pal excoriated me in an email about the quantities of fat I eat (when he has no idea really what or how I eat, owing to the fact that he lives in Virginia and not in my house in Cleveland).

Does fat make you fat? Yes, if you eat enough of it, you moron. Is salt bad for you? If you live on KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts you’ve got a helluva bigger problem than salt intake.

To quote the Times reporter: “Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions.”

I don’t see this latest news about salt as anything important or new (for godsake, you’d die without salt), but it does validate the fact that America has a serious eating disorder. Don’t listen to the Times (read it and think about it, yes), and don’t listen to the nightly news barfing up the latest studies.

(Jesus, it’s not good for me to get worked up in the morning, I know that for sure. This is how salt raises MY blood pressure.)

Is salt bad for you? No. Is lettuce bad for you? Damn fucking right it’s bad for you (if it’s the only thing you eat). Is smoking cigarettes bad for you? Of course it is, you moron, it will kill you. Have you seen the lungs of a smoker? We know for certain it’s a major cause of cancer. Is exercise good for you? Well, how do you feel after a good hike in the mountains or a workout in the gym? Is drinking alcohol bad for you? How do you feel after a bottle of wine with a good roast chicken versus 12 shots of tequila and a Jagermeister nightcap?

Sorry to have to repeat myself, but it seems one can’t say it enough: cook your own food or cozy up to someone who does (in which case offer to do the dishes or the shopping), and think for yourself. (It’s not easy, you have to teach yourself how, but it’s fundamental to our species.)

Or think about these words from Goethe that open the recent salt report:

Knowing is not enough, we must apply.

Willing is not enough, we must do.

In other words, pay attention, and then, as the wildly talented Kevin Costner put it in a long-ago movie, “Let’s do some good!” Kidding. (But not really.)

See, this always happens. I get worked up before ten in the morning and now I want a hot dog.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



96 Wonderful responses to “America Has a Serious Eating Disorder”

  • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I wonder if the ‘no salt’ thing has made restaurants try to protect us from ourselves? Dinner out two nights in a row and neither place had salt and pepper on the table. Now…I like salt but I don’t think I overdo it but when something is bland and I know a touch of salt would help…then I want to be able to salt it!

    I like salt, butter, milk, coffee and bourbon and not necessarily in that order. Heaven help someone who tries to convince me I can’t have them.

    • BJ

      Good point. Only we are responsible for what we put in our mouths. Our weakness, and mental laziness is why McD’s and other places are profiting selling garbage. An We buy it!

    • Mike

      Maybe there wasn’t salt on the table, but I can’t imagine there’s a self-respecting restaurant chef anywhere whose not seasoning the food you eat with plenty of salt durring the cooking process.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      symon told me that they see too many people salt the food before tasting so he wants to make sure people actually want the salt before giving it to them.

      • Micaela P.

        there you go, reminding me of my favorite moment from the long-ago Lenny Henry comedy “Chef!”.

      • jason

        This. I’ve refused to cook for some people anymore because they automatically hammer their food with salt and pepper before even tasting it.

      • Jamie Avera

        My mother-in-law comes to dinner with bottles of seasonings in her purse which she liberally applies to whatever has been cooked before she even tastes it. Pisses me off after spending all that time cooking a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner (or whatever) that she doesn’t even taste it first.

    • Ryan

      I don’t even have salt on *my* table. I salt it properly while cooking it. Sometimes I know I screwed up and didn’t salt enough, in that case I provide my salt cellar to the guests 🙂

  • Jessica @ Burlap and Butter Knives

    Hello COMMON FUCKING SENSE!!!! Thank you Ruhlman, for saying the painfully obvious truth that quite frankly we all should be shouting from the rooftops! It infinitely irritates me that in this country so many people have turned into morons completely unable to think for themselves let alone practice common sense or reason. Or course the crap in the cox is bad for you! And that diet shit in a can?? How do the think it’s calorie free? Fucking chemicals!

    I’m trying to not go on a rant here. Keep preaching. I’m listening, I’m sharing, and others are too!

  • Mary Holley

    My favorite is the restaurants around here that leave salt off the french fries. Like leaving off the salt is going to make them more healthy? They’re FRIES for heaven’s sake! If I wanted to eat something healthy I’d order carrot sticks–and dip them in salt…

  • Maurine Fischel

    Diet is kind of like a balance sheet- too much or too little and you are out of balance… Right? And, Barbara, my possibly paranoid assumption about no salt on the table is that the cook/chef feels if they season properly at cooking then additional salt is unnecessary.

    • Sally

      Taste is subjective. What is just right to the chef might not be salty enough for one person and too salty for another. Thinking that your taste is right for everyone is pretty arrogant.

  • Dan

    Really, it’s time for the salt debate again? How many years has it been since the last “be afraid of salt” campaign? One of the previous ones convinced my in-laws that salt was so bad that they don’t cook with it, so dinners there are usually rather bland. Alas, as a result they are what Terry Pratchett has termed “Autocondimenters.” They automatically grabbed the salt and pepper shakers and pour it on everything without tasting first because they just assume that food will be bland…and, no, they don’t see the irony of this tendency…

  • Brett

    You know, i have to disagree on the salt. I cut my sodium intake way down a few years ago in response to some chest discomfort I was having (and it did alleviate the problem), and after a while I came to realize that literally everything prepared in a restaurant and every recipe I followed to the letter (including salt) just tasted like salt.

    I know it’s personal preference, but IMO salt *is* overused. Except on caramel. Because…. salted caramel.

    • Mantonat

      You were having chest pains and you self-diagnosed by reducing your sodium?
      I was having chest pains combined with numbness and tingling in my arm. I seriously thought I was dying, so I went to a doctor. Turns out I had a pinched nerve in my neck that was causing back pains and muscle spasms (that felt like chest pain) as well as numbness in my fingertips. After some physical therapy and adjustments to my posture (especially while sitting in front of a computer all day), the symptoms went away.
      In terms of using salt and cooking at home, if you know what’s going into the food, you can control everything to your satisfaction. There is such a thing as too much sodium, but so much of it is hidden in processed foods (both in restaurants and grocery stores) that it’s hard to know if you’re getting too much. If a recipe is nothing but a dump-and-stir concoction of various processed foods, the sodium just gets multiplied but you don’t notice it in the flavor because of all the sugar and fat that masks it. Cutting out all that garbage allows you to salt your food to a level where it tastes good without being detrimental to health.

      • Brett

        It’s been a few years so I don’t remember the process too clearly. It was pseudoscience and a “sure why not” stab in the dark. I’m not trying to suggest it as an option for others, I just wanted to explain why I basically stopped eating salted things for a length of time, as background to my main point: that most things are (to me) oversalted.

      • ruhlman

        well said. brett is great example of why our bodies are so attuned to salt levels in food, which are hidden in processed food.

      • Mantonat

        Although I think waiting until you have chest pains to “listen to your body” is a really bad idea.

  • Jon Waalkes

    “cook your own food or cozy up to some who does (in which case offer to do the dishes or the shopping), and think for yourself.”

    Line of the day – glad my wife does the dishes after I cook.

  • Robin

    Hear hear! And if you learn to cook for yourself (even a little) you’ll learn that there are flavorings in the pantry other than sugar and salt (and will use less of both). It genuinely breaks my heart when I’m standing in the checkout line of a grocery with good produce and meats, and see cart after cart of frozen and ready to eat food.

  • Dean

    There you go again asking people to think. You really have high expectations of the human race. Is Sisyphus your role model? How was the hot dog? Hope it was a good one. I just had an egg salad sandwich with just the right amount of mayo, salt and pepper to make it very tasty.

  • BJ

    I think you found your new book here, Michael. “How to think for your F#$%ing self” A little common sense can go a long, long way.

  • Andrew

    Save your energy for future rants, because this blasted issue isn’t going away anytime soon unfortunately. I’m sure we will see it again and again and again. I don’t measure salt except when I’m baking bread. I don’t worry about salt (except making sure that I add enough while I’m cooking, or ensuring that I have enough stocked in my pantry), and most people who aren’t on dialysis or in a state of volume overload needn’t be so worried. If you (or a household member) cook for yourself and eat real food, you’re unlikely to have a problem with salt. It does tend to be overused in many restaurants (I tend to only notice my fingers getting swollen form salt during travel when I can’t cook for myself), and in overly processed food. The main problem with all the studies on salt is that most of them cannot tease away the strong correlation between foods that are high in salt and all the other garbage that is found in highly processed foods, or the other unhealthy habits of the people that eat them. Heroine doesn’t cause HIV infection, but people who use it are at much higher risk for HIV because of their behaviors, and because of needle sharing among IV drug users. Salt is often found in large quantities in foods that would still be very unhealthy even if you removed all the salt, and that are consumed by people engaging in plenty of other unhealthy habits having nothing to do with salt. It’s probably more of a marker for these risk factors than a direct contributor. The sad part is that all the money and resources being wasted on studying salt would be better used educating people on how to improve their health, making real food more available or accessible, etc.

  • Terri

    My boyfriend, who is wonderful is many, many ways, is terrified of salt, while I freely use it in my cooking. (He admits I’m a better cook than he is, though he doesn’t acknowledge the correlation.) We go back and forth about this ALL. THE. TIME. He makes me crazy when he cooks; he’ll throw in like three grains of salt to placate me (in the corner like the kitchen version of a backseat driver, reminding him to season his food) and relentlessly monitors the amount of salt in various canned tomatoes (but not, interestingly enough, things like his pre-packaged cereal, which he hoovers down every day). It’s a real tug-of-war, and it stems from some Authority Figure telling him that salt was bad one day and him believe it to be the Absolute Truth. Sigh. I hear you.

  • Pamela

    AT LAST. I’m so sick of this. Are we preaching to the converted? Salt, Fat, we all know what we should be doing and how and when. I’m sick of being told by ‘authorities’ what I should and shouldn’t be eating. I don’t want to see the calories on the menu when I go out. I’m out to enoy myself. Perhaps what we should be doing is educating those who eat ready made food, or fast food to think about fat , salt intake and exercise, but I am so sick of being told not to eat this or that( and recently it was a celery stick high in sodium). I’m a big girl, who lives in a country (Greece) where I get my produce fresh every day, and the only can I ever use is tomatoes or paste. My salt comes from the sea in crystals and I gain tremendous pleasure from using it every single day. But then I’m not eating takeout Pizza, tacos, burgers etc.
    American’s love definitives and fads. It sells TV, papers and buys into their idea of black and white, good and bad ( I’m an American too, so I can say that. Think for yourself, cook for yourself and others you care about using fresh ingredients. Michael says it all.

  • Debbie Gates

    We, as humans, don’t need any added salt in our diets. Salt is naturally found in all animals, fish, fruits and vegetables, so as we consume these foods we also consume salt, naturally. We use salt to enhance the flavor of food and to preserve food, and we use way too much of it. Have you ever read the sodium content of canned or prepackaged foods? How do you think they can sit on the shelf for years and not spoil? It’s because of the salt content. Now, take this same food and prepare it fresh, let’s say beef stew for example. Even by not adding extra salt to the dish, but by using herbs and spices, you can enter the recipe into a recipe information site and see that even though you didn’t add salt, there will still be quite a bit of sodium in the dish. Yes, our bodies need salt, but we don’t need a salt shaker to get it.

    • E. Nassar

      Yeah, it just won’t taste nearly as good. Humans do a lot of things because they bring us pleasure. Properly seasoned food is one of them and again PROPERLY seasoned (not salty or packaged oversalted stuff) is absolutely harmless. All in moderation.

  • Rebecca

    Word. The People’s Pharmacy had a piece on the NYT topic years ago. Let us all join hands and think for our fucking selves.

  • Bunnee

    It is unfortunate that so many of the studies lump everyone together. I am on a low-sodium diet because my heart is not strong enough to process excess fluid. I’ve given up eating out – just too difficult to find menu items that are reliably lower in salt. Fortunately, I love to cook and don’t use processed foods, so my diet is mine to control. To those of you who don’t have these issues, congratulations, but don’t condemn those of us who have little choice.

    • Sally

      I have congestive heart failure. Some years ago my cardiologist told me he didn’t care what I ate or how much salt I used in cooking or at the table, as long as I avoided processed foods (including most restaurant food). I’ve followed his advice and it’s worked very well for me.

  • BWL @ Better with Lemon

    While we’re at it, can we also stop obsessing about butter? And cream? And sugar? And wheat? Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from eating any of the so-called “bad” things, just cook your food and eat like a human. Avoid anything in a box with the words “healthy”, “low fat”, “diet”, “low sodium” and the like.

  • Walter Jeffries

    You got it! A big thing that these ‘X is bad for you’ articles miss out on is that genetics makes it very different for different people. What would kill one person is often good for another person.

    One more reason that cooking from scratch is such a good idea. I was raised cooking from a very young age, as soon as I could reach the stove standing on a chair. We’ve raised our kids the same way and they love to cook, and too eat.

    On that hot dog, if you were closer I would give you one of ours. We make a delicious pastured pork hot dog from our farm’s pigs that has fat, salt and maple syrup in it. The real stuff all the way!

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Did you read the Pollan piece on the Times web site to appear in the forthcoming NYT Mag.? About gut flora. Interesting companion to “is salt good or bad” for you.

  • Victoria

    I am in constant shock that we have somehow managed to turn eating and cooking – real pleasures – into dysfunctions. I salt (it is not the enemy) my food while cooking (except for chicken, which I salt and let sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours before I cook it), and, therefore, we rarely have to add salt at the table. In fact, I actually have to go get it if someone wants it; I don’t even put a salt shaker on the table.

    Off the point but funny, I once saw a sign outside someone’s office that said:

    Kissing a man without a mustache is like eating an egg without salt.

  • Susan

    I totally agree that we should cook our own food so that we can consume it according to our own tastes….regardless of what anyone else tells you is good or bad.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Singling out and demonizing certain foods is nonsense, not one food exists that does not have some sort of an issue, not one!!!!!!

    Carcinogenic aflatoxin in grains such as corn, sorghum, pearl millet, rice, and wheat, oilseeds such as peanuts, soybeans, sunflower seeds, and cottonseeds, etc.

    The toxin ergot in rye and other grains.

    Goitrogen toxins in soybeans (and soybean products such as tofu), pine nuts, peanuts, millet, strawberries, pears, peaches, spinach, bamboo shoots, radishes, horseradish, and vegetables in the genus Brassica (bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips.

    Carcinogenic hydrazines in shiitake and the white button mushrooms.

    Toxic lectins in many seeds, grains and legumes.

    Phytates in soybeans, whole wheat and rye.

    Toxic psoralens in celery, parsley and parsnips.

    Toxic solanines in tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

    Trypsin in soybeans.

    Phytoestrogens in legumes.

    Nitrates in green leafy vegetables.

    Sugar and salt are toxins.

    Numerous issues with meats.

    Carcinogenic nitrosamines in beer, non-fat dry milk and mushrooms.

    And on and on and on…….

    Breathe, smile, eat, be happy!!!!!!!

  • Todd

    Listening to the radio a couple of months ago, I heard this: what’s up with milk, we have fat-free, 1%, 2%, and then whole milk? We go from 2% right to 100%?

    I wanted to slam my head into the dashboard repeatedly.

    • ruhlman

      set your pandora to lewis black. and if you haven’t seen his soy milk routine, youtube it.

      • Joal

        Ignore that – reading comprehension failure on my part. The person on the radio said that, not you.

        I understand the bashing you head against the dashboard thing now.

  • Attrill

    Years ago I saw a news piece on salt that was actually very well done. They looked at the amount of sodium in some processed foods and then weighed out an equivalent amount of salt. I use salt fairly liberally in the kitchen, but nowhere near the amounts of salt they measured out.

  • Anne from Pintesting

    Thank you! Any cook worth their salt (pun horribly intended) knows that you MUST season the food during each part of the cooking process to create the wonderful layers of flavor that you find in good food. Season. Taste. Adjust. Use logic and moderation. Life shouldn’t be complicated or dictated by the tasteless. Oh, and don’t buy that pre-packaged junk and call it food. THAT’s the stuff that’s so full of sodium that it’ll kill you. Please pass the wine.

  • Paulette

    What a small world it is! When you suggest the other articles at the end , I saw the name Carrie Thurman and thought…I know someone with that name. And lo & behold there is a wonderful article written about harvesting your own salt by the same person I know here in Homer, Alaska! Thank you for a great read above & also for posting Carrie’s.

  • Bowen Appétit

    100% agree. If I’m going to eat, I want to enjoy it – and that means salting it properly! I totally understand when people have extenuating medical conditions that need to severely limit sodium intake, but when I’m (generally) eating a healthy diet I want to fully enjoy the flavors of everything (and that means salt!).

  • Caroline

    I love this. Thank you for writing it and for pointing out what should be obvious to us all. I feel like so many people have lost their sense of moderation. We’ve become a society that is all about having what we want, when we want it, in the largest dose we can get it. Then, when our bodies are about to give out from being abused, we decide that everything is bad for us and cut it all out completely.

  • Jeff

    What is unfortunate is that the back and forth media volleyball game about what ingredients are harmful versus what are the best practices not only makes people distrust their food and perceive it as trying to kill them, it undermines the faith people have in other scientific research. So much of what is published is done so as a way of gaining tenure or federal funding that actual, beneficial findings are lost in the noise. And the bottom line frequently seems to be: Everything taken in moderation is fine.

  • karen downie

    stress is bad for you, too. others may be misinformed yet self-righteously indignant about their beliefs. don’t so much as furrow your brow about their ignorance. their ignorance is THEIR problem. getting worked up about it might actually lead to a premature demise and then they will just blame it on your salt shaker. don’t give them a reason.

  • DJK

    So do you have any thoughts on what should be done about America’s thinking disorder with regard to food? For example, we have traffic regulations because of our collective thinking disorder, too, don’t we? And “C’mon, drive/eat smarter, people!” doesn’t sound like a practical solution to me.

    I think a Sin Tax approach to fast foods, frozen foods, prepared foods, soft drinks, etc would be a really good start. We remain free to eat garbage food but are financially discouraged from doing so (at least as often).

  • Annie

    Harsh, man. But very funny. Been saying this for years, too, although possibly with a little less profanity ;D. The only people who need to cut down on salt are a) people who eat processed crap (and they should cut the processed crap for a number of other reasons, not least because it’s fucking disgusting) and b) people who have been diagnosed with hypertension or another medical condition. Otherwise, forget it and salt to taste is my MO.

  • Jeff

    Ruhlman has eff you money…dropping F Bombs like they are Halloween treats….

  • Rachel

    As a non-American, the whole salt ‘battle’ seems pretty silly. If you keep an eye on your personal health, eat real food cooked at home (I grant thee permission to go forth and season well) and a good variety of it, salt is a non-issue.
    What IS alarming is that salt has become something that folks are getting worked up about.
    Please don’t tell me there’s a lobby group against Big Salt or something or else I’m going to die… of laughter.

  • ride&cook

    Right on, Ruhlman. The single most important thing I learned in my first class at the CIA was SEASON WHILE COOKING. Making a simple sauce of shallot, roma tomato, white wine and cream I asked Chef to taste it a few times and his answer was always the same – “needs more salt.” I finally took his advice (duh!) and threw in several pinches and all of a sudden that sauce was fucking awesome. My husband used to cringe watching me cook as I add pinches of salt to food, now he gets it and his eating habits have changed. I don’t know how Americans became so damn stupid about food, we are a country of immigrants from so many vibrant food cultures around the world and the traditions are lost. Keep on preaching, man.

  • Lora Krulak

    SO well said and I could not agree more! I’ve been predicting an epidemic of a new eating disorder to come on the rise- “fear of food”. Yes, our food is a messed with, but there is a ton of fantastic REAL food to eat, like REAL salt and REAL butter… Fat free made America fat – Fat didn’t.
    Thank you for writing this.

  • Jerry Norman

    Wait. Smoking is bad for you? I weigh the same at 55 as I did at 25 by following the 3B diet. Bacon. Butter. Beer. Cook your own food and salt it until it is seasoned properly. Eat everything. In moderation. It’s really simple. I can’t believe that we as a society are still debating this.

  • Jackie

    First, Mr. Ruhlman, you might persuade a few more readers if you didn’t keep calling us morons. Second, your reliance on swearing bespeaks a lack of imagination. I agree with you about salt, but this piece is both tedious and offensive.

    • Gooner

      I sure wish that all I could be worried about is how many times the word fuvk is used on a website. Must be a nice life get over you rfucking self. If you don’t like to read people freely expressing themselves go to a website that censors comments and leve us the FUCK alone. That is all

  • Melanie

    I have come to the conclusion that MOST people know how much salt, sugar, fat, carbs, protein, etc. to eat. The MEDIA blows certain subjects out of proportion, thus sensationalizing everything so that people will be afraid and keep watching the news for further “reports”.

  • johngalt

    Actually fresh, raw milk is somewhere between 4-5% fat. And it’s so damn good. And when you keep it long enough it doesn’t spoil, it just becomes soured milk – which is still delicious.

  • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    It´s all about habits and comparison. I wonder what Brett´s original level of salt was when he decided to cut down. I have a friend who ended up with a similar speech regarding food prepared by others after he cut his salt intake, but then, he used to salt his sausages, which are already ridiculously salty. So his new salt intake was still probably higher than my normal dosis.
    I´m from south america, and I can tell you there´s way too much information about everything food related in the US.
    So it´s always better to think for yourself and be aware of how your body feels. The body never lies.

  • ChefLizD

    I would rather die happy and well salted, than to live a day with no salt.:) I love it when you are so f-ing righteous first thing in the morning. Bravo!

  • ashley jewel t

    this make me laugh and applaud. bravo michael. …i just finished The Making of a Chef, and looking forward to enjoying Ratio. thanks for the information and inspiration.

  • Carl D

    I heard recently that people on a low salt diet had more health problems than people on a diet with a bit more salt. But, I see people who just shake salt on everything without even tasting first. Just avoid the extremes.

  • Glenn

    Thanks Michael for this post. We are increasingly a confused society about so many things. Not enough people rely on good old fashioned common sense anymore. If you eat shit you will feel like shit. Processed food from a box will kill you, that’s a fact Jack(Bill Murray, Stripes quote)

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    It’s in fact very complicated in this active life to listen news on TV, so I only use web for that reason, and obtain the most recent news.

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