Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

You’d think a health news piece in the venerable NYTimes questioning a NYTimes op-ed linking illness and salt would make me happy, but it only makes me angry. What is the media’s problem?

Nobody knows anything for certain—that is the only possible story. Nobody really knows anything for certain. Not your doctor, not your nutritionist, not ABC News, not the Times, and, for sure, not me.

Today’s op-ed by Nicholas Bakalar questions an earlier op-ed by Dr. Thomas A. Farley, former commissioner of health for New York City (both articles linked above), who wrote that excess salt is killing 40,000 to 90,000 people a year (according to “best estimates”—what exactly does this mean?). Think about this number. It accounts for more deaths than breast cancer. If he is right, shouldn’t we all be wearing little anti-salt-shaker pins on our lapel? Shouldn’t we start national movements to raise money to prevent salt intake? I do not mean to belittle breast cancer, only Dr. Farley’s claims.

Last September the elegant and intelligent Diane Sawyer sent dire warnings from her seat on high at ABC Nightly News announcing a “new” health crisis: “The threat is salt,” she intoned ominously. As far as I could discern, and I was listening carefully, she and the reporter (as is common) said only “studies show” or words to that effect, without naming the actual study or source (Dr. Farley perhaps?).

The Centers For Disease Control says consuming more than 2300 mg per day is harmful. How did they come up with that? Who determined that magic number and how? I called their press office. They said they’d get back to me.

As for Mr. Bakalar, his op-ed says that the study Farley relies on is substandard and flawed. Here is what Bakalar also suggests: that the studies show that salt is bad for you; that studies show that salt is good for you; that salt has no relationship to illness whatever; that too little salt is bad for you; that eating more salt than is recommended by the CDC isn’t bad for you at all and may even be good for you.

Search the NYTimes for “health and salt” and all you get is disagreement.

In fact, the only thing we know about salt and health, the one known fact is this: if you consume no salt at all, you will die.

Other than that, it’s anybody’s guess.  Should you listen to Dr. Farley? No. Should you listen to Mr. Bakalar? No. Times health reporter Gina Kolata? No.

Me? For God’s sake, no! I’m a salt proselytizer, for crying out loud! Two of my books, Charcuterie and Salumi, are worthless if you remove salt. In Ruhlman’s Twenty, the second most important cooking technique is how to use salt.

Know what the number one cooking technique is? Think. And that’s what I recommend you do for yourself where salt is concerned. The person you should listen to is you and your own body.

When my mom visits and I cook as I normally do, her ankles swell up with water. She doesn’t need the salt. When I cut back, she’s fine. During the last year of his life, my father began to complain that my food was too salty. His body was telling him that it didn’t need so much salt. I dramatically reduced the salt when I cooked for him. Our body is highly attuned to salt because we need it to survive. If you cook and eat your own naturally occurring food—that is, food that isn’t heavily processed—you can and should salt your food to taste, meaning salt it so that it’s flavorful without tasting salty.

In my opinion.

Do I have to end every rant with “God, this shit drives me crazy”? Apparently.


If you liked this post, take a look at these links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.