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Reducing Salt: Maybe You Don't Have To


Wasn't it just a few months ago that the federal government was telling the 50-plus crowd to cut waaay back on our salt intake because of blood pressure and heart disease risks?

Which is what makes today's research news so stunning: A new European study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that healthy people who ate a low-sodium diet were more likely to die from heart disease than those who ate heavily salted food.

In other words, the study failed to find evidence that eating a lot of salt can cause high blood pressure in a healthy person with no cardiovascular problems.

The response from medical experts on this side of the Atlantic was less than enthusiastic, with officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slamming the results in an interview with The New York Times, complete with the requisite "take it with a grain of salt" quote.

In the study, Belgian researchers analyzed the sodium intake of nearly 4,000 participants, with an average age of 40, by measuring sodium in their urine at the beginning and end of the eight-year study.

You would expect that those who ate the least salt would be the healthiest, but the study found just the opposite. Those with the lowest salt intake had more deaths from heart disease and stroke than those who ate average or even high amounts of salt.

This is not to say that those who already have blood pressure and heart problems should start reaching for that salt shaker. Reducing sodium is still critical for those with high blood pressure or heart failure, the study's authors wrote.

The study's critics noted the relative young age of the participants and questioned some of the study's methodology in measuring salt intake.

However, this is not the first study to question whether a high-salt diet can cause blood pressure problems. Judith S. Stern of the University of California, Davis, has long questioned the blanket recommendation for all people to reduce sodium. If you're salt-sensitive, or already have health problems, then yes, cut back, she says.

But for those who are healthy with no blood pressure problems? We'll have to see how things shake out.

How about you -- have you cut back on your salt as a matter of course? Is there any food you can't imagine eating without at least a couple shakes of the shaker? (That would be popcorn for me.)

Photo credit: Ellie via flickr

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