Salt has gotten a bad rap for many years. Is salt intake important?
The ‘salt hypothesis’ contends that too much salt can elevate your blood pressure and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
In fact, more recent studies have proven this hypothesis to be wrong.
A low-sodium diet may cause serious health consequences and higher overall mortality, especially in the presence of certain chronic health conditions and lifestyle factors.
Does Salt Cause Hypertension?
An 8-year study in 1995 of a New York City group of people who were diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) found those with low salt intake had more than four times as many heart attacks as those on normal sodium diets.
Low sodium diets have also been associated with poor health in Type 2 diabetes. Yet a 2011 study showed people with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to die prematurely on a low-salt diet, due to higher cardiovascular mortality.
Additionally, a 2010 Harvard study linked low-salt diets to an immediate onset of insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes.
Salt is an essential nutrient in our body and necessary for optimal function. If you want more information about the body’s need for salt, read this article from Chris Kresser.
What we disagree about is what type and how much salt is good for our bodies.
How much Salt Should We Consume?
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the USDA recommend limiting your sodium intake to 2300 mg per day.
That is equivalent to about a 1 teaspoon of salt per day.
Salt is sodium chloride, NaCl, if you remember your high school chemistry. I’ll use the term ‘sodium’ interchangeably with ‘salt’ even though the two are different.
The recommendation for ‘at risk’ folks is just 1500 mg per day (a little more than ½ teaspoon). At risk folks are defined as those with high blood pressure, existing heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease or those over the age of 51.
However, the average American consumption of salt is 1.5 to 1.75 teaspoons per day. We are consuming well more than the recommendation of the AHA.
So that’s bad, right? Not necessarily.
Too Little or Too Much?
In a recent 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found moderate salt intake was associated with the lowest risk of cardiovascular events (such as heart attack or stroke), whereas low intakes (less than 1.5 teaspoons) were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death and hospitalization for congestive heart failure.
Higher intakes of more than 3 teaspoons of salt per day were associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular events.
So it would appear that there is a zone of a healthy amount of salt. We need a moderate amount of sodium in our daily diets, not too much and not too little. The average American consumption of 1.5 to 1.75 teaspoons per day seems to fall right in that range.
Are you average?
How Do You Measure Salt in Your Diet?
Salt is hidden in a lot of food. This makes it very difficult to keep track of your daily salt intake. You can’t just count the salt that you add to your own food.
Salt naturally occurs in food but in our American diets, about 75% is derived from processed foods. That’s a lot.
Approximately 20% of our sodium consumption comes from salt that is added to our food while cooking or is naturally occurring salt. The rest comes from other sources such as medications and in our treated water.
In fact, U.S. fast foods are often more than twice as salt-laden as those of other countries. While government-led public health campaigns and legislation efforts have reduced refined salt levels in many countries, the U.S. government has been reluctant to press the issue.
Many low-fat foods rely on sodium for their flavor.
“Bread is the No. 1 source of refined salt consumption in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one 6-inch Roasted Garlic loaf from Subway–just the bread, no meat, no cheeses, no nothing–has 1,260 mg sodium, about as much as 14 strips of bacon,” says Natural Cures Not Medicine.
Read the labels on the products you buy to see how much sodium they contain.
Minimize Eliminate the use of processed foods that add sodium so that you can be in better control of your sodium intake.
This salty article is part one of a two-part series. Check out my next part: “Pick your poison: How to Select the Healthiest Salt“.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Read the nutrition labels on the products you buy to check for sodium content. Eliminate the use of processed foods.
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