A CDC report released yesterday announced that Americans are eating too much sodium still. The numbers can be meaningless without a context, so I figured out how much salt was being recommended per day. The recommendation is no more than 2,300 mgs of salt per day for most people. However, if you are older than 51, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, 1,500 mgs of salt per day is recommended.
What do those recommendations translate into? If you are blessed by age, health, and race to get the 2,300 mgs, you are allowed basically one teaspoon of salt everyday. Otherwise, you’d better stick to 1,500 mgs per day, which is 2/3 a teaspoon of salt. For anyone who cooks from scratch at home, you will know that this is indeed a limited amount of salt. Does the research really prove that this is necessary? After all, food without salt is terribly bland and under-salted food is almost as bad. We had better have good reasons to deprive ourselves.
According to the CDC, “Too much sodium is bad for your health. It can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart attack and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in the United States.”
But, studies aren’t all so cut and dry. In fact, you might even increase your chance of death by lowering your sodium too much!
For example, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association from May of last year, reported on a study that followed 3,681 healthy European men and women age 60 or younger for about eight years. This study found that higher sodium intake did not seem correlated with higher blood pressure, heart attacks or strokes.
And in a strange twist, CNN reported, “Those who consumed the least salt had a 56 percent higher risk of death from a heart attack or stroke compared with those who had the highest consumption, even after controlling for obesity, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and other risk factors. The researchers don't have a firm explanation for this finding, but they speculate that sodium intake low enough to decrease blood pressure may also decrease sensitivity to insulin, encourage a stress response in the nervous system, and affect hormones that regulate blood pressure and sodium absorption. 'Each of these effects might have unfavorable impact on cardiovascular mortality,' Staessen says."
The authors of the study conclude, “Taken together, our current findings refute the estimates of computer models of lives saved and health care costs reduced with lower salt intake. They do also not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level.”
It turns out that not all researchers think advocating a low-sodium diet a good idea, especially with studies like the 2010 Harvard study which linked low-salt diets to an increase in insulin resistance, and the fact that some studies demonstrate that there are more deaths among those put on a low-sodium diet.
Salt is an essential. It’s important from birth to old age. Wars have been waged in order to get salt, Old world tribes drink animal blood to get sodium when salt it not available. Our brains, adrenals, and digestion need salt to work correctly.
I am all for reducing America’s consumption of packaged and premade foods that are full of refined salt. I am all for Americans eating more fruits and vegetables. But when I take my salt (sun-dried, unrefined, and full of trace minerals) and sprinkle it over a bowl of warm soup, I don’t feel even the slightest twinge of worry that it is bad for me.
Americans may eat too much salt because they are consuming a high amount of fake food in the form of frozen, canned, and packaged foods. The solution is not simply to reduce the amount of sodium in said products (who knows what nasty ingredients they will add instead!). The solution is to eat real food, seasoned to taste with unrefined salt. Why unrefined salt? It hasn’t been chemically treated, retains its natural trace minerals, and tastes better too. In fact, I’d say you use less unrefined salt in a dish than refined, because it adds better flavor and takes less to do it.
If you want a second opinion on the salt debate, here are some articles to consider:
Physicians speak out (against low-salt recommendations)