Should Everyone Cut Salt Intake? Study Says No

salt shakerA large international study questions the conventional advice that all people should cut their salt intake to the bone. Too much salt is bad, especially for those over 60 or those who already have high blood pressure, but too little salt may be just as bad, the scientists said.

The findings are the latest in a decades-long controversy over whether health officials have gone too far in urging everyone to reduce the amount of salt in their diet.

The new research suggests that for healthy Americans under 60, the current average sodium-consumption level is probably fine. What’s more, study authors said that other lifestyle changes may be more effective, such as eating more foods rich in potassium, found in many fruits and vegetables.  A potassium-rich diet may yield greater health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, than “aggressive sodium reduction alone,” as an accompanying editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) put it.

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“Lower is not necessarily better,” lead author Andrew Mente, an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Ontario, told Reuters. The research found that people with moderate salt intake didn’t benefit from eating less salt compared with those in the high-salt group or those who already had high blood pressure.

The study, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries for more than three years, found that 3,000 to 6,000 mg. (milligrams) of sodium a day seemed to be the optimum target range. Those who consumed less than 3,000 mg. had an increased risk of death or heart attack, and so did those who consumed more than 6,000 mg. By comparison, the American Heart Association recommends between 1,500 and 2,300 mg. of sodium daily. The average American consumes about 3,400 mg, most of which come from packaged or restaurant food.

(As examples of sodium in our food, Burger King’s Tender Crisp Chicken Sandwich has 1,430 mg. of sodium, nearly a day’s worth based on heart association guidelines, while an eight-ounce carton of plain yogurt has about 85 mg.)

However, a second international study, which looked only at the link between cardiovascular deaths and sodium, discovered that eating too much salt – more than 2,000 mg. – contributes to 1.65 million deaths worldwide each year. Both studies were published Aug. 14 in the NEJM.

The findings of the first study were immediately contradicted by the heart association and other experts, who argued that lowering salt consumption is key to lowering blood pressure and preventing heart disease – and they pointed to the second study as proof.

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Reducing our daily salt intake and the salt in our food products is perhaps our greatest challenge in the fight against cardiovascular diseases,” Valentin Fuster, M.D., director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief at Mount Sinai Medical Center, told AARP in an email. Trying to get the food industry to reduce sodium in its products is “similar to our battle against tobacco,” he added.

But senior author Salim Yusuf, M.D., of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, said the research supports a more moderate approach than many health groups have taken. “There are those who have made a career out of promoting extreme sodium reduction that will attack us,” he told the Associated Press. No one should view this research as permission to eat more salt, he noted, adding that “most people should stay where they are.”

Both studies are associational, finding a relationship between sodium consumption and heart disease risk but not a specific cause. Still, it once again raises the question about the accuracy of current sodium limits given the disagreement among researchers – especially as the government considers pushing food companies to limit sodium content.

The Food and Drug Administration, which said earlier this year that it wants to limit sodium in processed food, intends to review the studies.

 

Photo: LeventKonuk/iStock

 

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4 comments
2Papa
2Papa 5pts

You need the iodine in salt to live!  Sea salt does not contain iodine, so stick with "When it rains, it pours". 

Stoshie
Stoshie 5pts

I never fully bought into the Great Salt Scare.  One of the largest components in our bodies is salt.


It seemed to me that the Great Salt Scare was brought on because there are some people for whom too much salt can indeed be a problem.  I don't deny that.  But the movement to cut down on salt intake was applied to everyone, across the board, whether it was appropriate or not.  This often happens with food scares and fads; problems some people have with particular foods are overblown, by the media and others, to the point where everyone is urged to avoid those foods.  We are not all alike, and what is bad for one person may not be so for another.  This is similar to the current Great Gluten Scare.  Yes, gluten is bad for some people; one of my best friends is allergic to it, and must watch her diet carefully. But that doesn't mean that everyone has to avoid it.  I expect we will see the Great Gluten Scare moderate over time, once the current overreaction dies down.


Now, I'm not saying I open my salt shaker and pour it into my mouth.  But I don't obsess about how much salt I eat.  I don't over salt my food, but I'm not afraid to use it, either.   Oh, and I monitor my health carefully.  There are no indications that salt is bad for me.


Moderation, people.  That's generally the key to everything, including diet.

yuffie2012
yuffie2012 5pts

I cut out adding salt to most of my food since I was in the Army in 1968. I will add it to popcorn that I cook the old fashioned way, but that is all I add it to. I can taste it in almost everything, including candy. The less you use, the more you can taste it in everything.

sali88
sali88 5pts

What about effects on health issues other than the cardiovascular ones?  I read that excess salt was bad for bones, and as someone who has osteoporosis, that concerns me.