Our love affair with salt! Do we need to worry?

salt in a spoon and rose petals

In America we have an ongoing love affair with salt! It’s a love affair that we take for granted until the doctor or nutritionist or next door neighbor suggests that our tendency to high blood pressure is worsened by all that salt we eat.  Wait!  What? We might need to pay attention to how much salt we eat?  Oh no!!

OK, let’s look at this.  Salt is simply Sodium Chloride.  Both the sodium and the chloride are electrolytes that are used by our bodies to support healthy function.  So far, so good.  We need salt.   When people are told to go on a “low salt diet” it is really a “low sodium diet” that they need.  When we consume too much sodium it can lead to fluid retention and then high blood pressure. So a proper question is – How much is too much?  “Low” sodium recommendations are between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg depending upon the health concern. On average, Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium daily.

This week’s New England Journal of Medicine had several impressive studies on the subject of sodium intake and high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke.  The results are fascinating!!  In some ways, the results were really surprising.  Overall, it looks like cutting back on sodium too much may not be a great plan.  What??  Now that is big news!!

All 3 studies included over 100,000 people from many different countries.  All 3 studies were accepted for publication by the NEJM (a very prominent medical journal) so they clearly met strict scientific criteria. Here are the highlights:

  • Study 1 looked at people from 66 countries and concluded that “1.65 million deaths from cardiovascular causes that occurred in 2010 were attributed to sodium consumption above a  reference level of 2,000 mg a day.”
  • Study 2  looked at people from 17 countries and concluded that “An estimated sodium intake between 3,000 mg per day and 6,000 mg per day was associated with a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events than with either a higher or lower (sodium) intake.”
  • Study 3  looked at people from 18 countries and showed that high blood pressure was associated mostly with high sodium intake (over 5,000 mg) and in people who already had some level of high blood pressure and in people over 55 years old.

So, when all combined, the results of these 3 studies adds more confusion! Certainly, consuming over 6000 mg per day is too much.  That much is clear.  Study 2 showed that consuming less than 3000 mg was associated with a 27% increase of heart attack, stroke or death.  That is shocking!!  What should you do?  Well, based on this information, it appears wise to keep your daily sodium intake at or above 3,000 mg and less than 6,000 mg.  If you have a health issue that requires a low sodium diet, talk to your doctor about these studies.  The recommendations have not yet changed.  More research will definitely be done over the next few years.

Want to learn some other great salt facts and ideas?  See fellow Oatie, Karen’s posts from June 4th  and from June 8th!    Elizabeth, our Oatie dietician, had great info on the “To salt or not to salt?” question in her June 27th post!

So, for now, it looks like our love affair with salt continues on!

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3 Responses to Our love affair with salt! Do we need to worry?

  1. barbara says:

    why so much sodium in bread products. say there is 170 per slice that’s 340 with out any thing on it. I do like my breads, but as you can see if one is watching salt intake you have to be really careful. I like whole grain breads. everything else is good for you but the salt.

    • Dr. Daria says:

      Hi Barbara
      Appreciate the comments! Good for you for keeping an eye of the sodium in the different foods you eat. Whole grain breads are a great way to add lots of nutrients and fiber. The ingredients in the breads often contain sodium anyway and then some salt is generally added to improve taste. Most people should keep their sodium intake between 3,000 mg and 6,000 mg daily. People with certain health issues are advised to keep it at a lower number. Two Slices of healthy bread contains 5 – 10% of daily sodium intake and lots of nutrient value. What goes on that bread or in that sandwich can add a lot a sodium too! People on low sodium diets know to watch the sodium in their foods. For the rest of us, reading the labels, like you, and generally keeping an eye of sodium and other components of our foods makes very good sense. Thanks!
      Dr. D.

  2. Pingback: InternationalInternational Salt Awareness Week

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