Salt in the diet is necessary for good health and proper functioning of body processes. Diets consisting largely of unprocessed foods with some added salt for seasoning don’t appear to cause problems; the excess salt problems appear when diets are primarily processed or restaurant food. Since moving away from salty snacks and processed foods like breads, soups, pizza, and fast food both reduces excess salt consumption and has other health benefits, people should still work toward avoiding excess processed and restaurant food.
But the Conventional Wisdom on salt, like on animal fats, was that intake should be reduced as much as possible to lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease. Like many conclusions of past public health medicine, it was based on reduction of a marker for harm caused, not the harm itself — that reducing salt in the diet does reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is correlated with heart disease. But there was no real evidence that lowering blood pressure through salt restriction beyond standard dietary levels lowered heart disease or extended lives.
The Wall Street Journal reports on a study which seems to say that too little salt may be as bad as too much, and cause excess deaths due to heart disease and stroke. This is only an association from one urine sampling, and it could easily be true that those who have adopted very low salt diets have done so because their knowledge of pre-existing heart disease issues:
A long-running debate over the merits of eating less salt escalated Wednesday when one of the most comprehensive studies yet suggested cutting back on sodium too much actually poses health hazards.
Current guidelines from U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and other groups set daily dietary sodium targets between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower, well below the average U.S. daily consumption of about 3,400 milligrams.
The new study, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years, found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are the latest to challenge the benefit of aggressively low sodium targets—especially for generally healthy people. Last year, a report from the Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress on health issues, didn’t find evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
The rest of the article reports on the overwhelming evidence that very high salt consumption does lead to heart disease and early death, and the complete lack of a controlled scientific study showing that reducing salt intake as is commonly recommended to below 2300 mg sodium per day has any positive benefits for healthy people.
For more on diet and science-based weight loss:
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‘Fed Up’ Asks, Are All Calories Equal?
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More on “Fed Up”, Sugar Subsidies, and Obesity
Another Study on Diet Drinks
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Why We’re Fat: In-Depth Studies Under Way
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More on Diet Drinks: Best Studies Show They Aid Weight Loss
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Sugared Soft Drinks: Health Risk? (and What About Diet Soda?)
Gluten-Free Diets: The Nocebo Effect
Acidic Soft Drinks and Sodas: Demineralization Damages Teeth
Fish and Fish Oil for Better Brain Health
Bulletproof Coffee: Coffee, Oil, and Butter for Breakfast?