Have you cut down on salt? Forced the kids to eat spinach because it's uniquely healthy? You may think you're eating healthy food, but you're really swallowing junk science.
When I was a kid, my mother thought spinach was the healthiest food in the world because it contained so much iron. Getting enough iron was a big deal then because we didn't have "iron-fortified" bread. It turns out that spinach is an OK source of iron but no better than pizza, pistachio nuts or dried peaches. The spinach-iron myth grew out of a simple mathematical miscalculation: A researcher accidentally moved a decimal point one space, so he thought spinach had 10 times more iron than it did. The press reported it, and I had to eat spinach.
Moving the decimal point was an honest mistake -- but it's seldom that simple. If it happened today, I'd suspect a spinach lobby was behind it. Businesses often twist science to make money. Lawyers do it to win cases. Political activists distort science to fit their agenda, bureaucrats to protect their turf. Reporters, like other people who aren't scientists, keep falling for it.
And so does the government. Consider salt. Uncle Sugar hasn't tried banning salt -- yet -- but he has decided to make all of us pay for a program to tell us salt is no good. But it's the science that's no good.
The federal anti-salt bureaucracy launched expensive public service announcements that warn Americans to cut back on salt. The ads intoned, ominously, "You eat more than 20 times the salt your body needs."
Eat "no more than 2,400 milligrams a day," said Dr. Jeffrey Cutler, the official behind the government's anti-salt campaign.
I feel sorry for you if you follow your government's recommendations. A maximum of 2,400 milligrams a day makes for a miserable diet. Three dill pickles put you over the limit.
Cutler decided that Americans should eat less salt because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and eating less salt can lower blood pressure. It's a plausible theory, but it doesn't prove that less salt leads to less heart disease. Too many other things may be going on.
Many experts on blood pressure told us there isn't enough scientific research to justify the government's anti-salt campaign, and there definitely isn't enough to justify Cutler's 2,400-milligram limit.