From taxing soft drinks to banning bake sales, public health activists and dietary do-gooders have been beating us up over what we eat and drink.
Now they want to rub salt in our wounds.
The Institute of Medicine released a report last month calling on the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider salt's "generally recognized as safe" status and limit how much can be in certain foods, before lowering it as part of a "stepdown" process.
In other words, government-mandated blandness may not be far off.
But while the FDA considers its options on how to deal with the "salt epidemic," the potential effects of federal action are quite opaque. Even one institute speaker admitted that "an initiative like this has a number of unknowns."
Let's just say the science is anything but rock-hard.
The editor of the American Journal of Hypertension last year recounted nine observational studies of salt intake and heart attacks and strokes. Four found no association between salt and health.
That's one reason he called attempts to tinker with salt intake as amounting to "an experiment on a whole population."
And let's not forget that salt reduction can lead to an increase in blood pressure in some people. Because of the variance of how people deal with salt, then, there's no one-size-fits-all amount that the government can mandate.
But there could be other headaches courtesy of the salt busybodies.
Consider the notorious "food police" at the self-named Center for Science in the Public Interest. For three decades the center has demonized salt, even calling it the "white powder you already snort."
The center frivolously sued the Denny's restaurant chain last year over the salt content of its dishes. (A judge dismissed the suit in November.) Once the FDA no longer considers salt "generally recognized as safe," can a stampede of trial lawyers looking for a payday and suing over canned soup and pretzels be far behind?
Lawsuits aren't the only thing we have to look forward to. The Institute of Medicine report recommends determining the "appropriate" amount of salt to allow in different kinds of food. It's hard to imagine the government creating a regulation for how much salt can be in every single thing we eat. At that point, the feds might as well publish their own "government-approved" recipe book.
And there may be no need for such a determination. Research from the University of California-Davis last fall found that our bodies naturally regulate the amount of salt we take in, making government intervention ultimately pointless.
That's why diets are best determined on an individual basis. There's no one-size-fits-all meal plan. And that's the fundamental problem with the "public health" mentality: It misses the forest for the trees.
By singling out and demonizing simple ingredients (like salt) or certain "bad" foods (like soft drinks), public health activists make a lot of noise but don't produce a lot of results because they don't take into account the totality of diets.
The American Dietetic Association, which represents 70,000 nutrition experts, rejects the black-and-white food dichotomy created by activists. The ADA states that "total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style. … Classifying foods as 'good' or 'bad' may foster unhealthful eating behaviors."
Unintended consequences are often the result of short-sighted policies. New York Times science columnist John Tierney hypothesize that we could get fatter by subconsciously overcompensating and eating more low-sodium food to try to get back to the old levels of salt intake that we're used to.
Tierney joked: "Never bet against the expansion of Americans' waistlines, especially not when public health experts get involved."
What's next? Declaring soy sauce a controlled substance? Establishing a squad of 'Floss Police' (but only after we pass universal dental care)?
It appears everything is on the table for the nanny state — except the shaker.