We’ve been told to avoid salt for decades, based on the recommendation of National Academy of Medicine, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture, who suggested limiting sodium intake to 2.3 grams a day (about 1 teaspoon), with the thinking that eating too much salt causes high blood pressure, which might lead to heart attack and stroke.
It’s true; high blood pressure does increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, but is salt truly the culprit? Just as cholesterol and saturated fat were demonized (and now they’re not all that bad), perhaps a little extra shake of salt isn’t the end of the world either?
While there is research linking high sodium intake to high blood pressure, this does not mean this applies to everyone or that cutting back your salt intake to low levels is the way to go either.
According to an analysis presented at the American Society of Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago, participants with a higher intake of sodium and potassium had significantly lower blood pressure, and their daily sodium intake was 3.7 grams a day, higher than recommended guidelines.
In fact, a 2016 study in The Lancet examined sodium intake and blood pressure data in over 130,000 people with varying levels of sodium intake from 49 countries. Low sodium intake was defined as 3 grams a day. Four to 5 grams a day was considered moderate and 7 or more grams a day as high.
The authors found that people with very low sodium intake had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those with moderate intake. People who had a high sodium intake also had a higher risk, but this was only with people who had high blood pressure to being with. The data supports the fact that moderate to high salt consumption in folks with normal blood pressure does not seem to increase blood pressure, while bringing your salt intake down to low levels may increase the risk for heart disease. Meanwhile, people who consume moderate levels of salt have the lowest risk of cardiovascular issues and death.
What is important to consider is that Americans tend to consume an average of 3.4 grams of sodium a day, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75% of this sodium intake in our diet comes from processed food similar to what our kids are eating, which includes salty snack foods, canned and instant soups, processed meats, pickled foods, soy sauce, and even bread, cottage cheese and some breakfast cereals.
So this latest information does not mean you can embark on a salt free-for-all, because we could certainly cut back on all that sodium coming from processed foods. But if you can pass on the processed foods in favor of fresh vegetables, certain fruits, meat, seafood, poultry, dairy and healthy fats, and the sodium as part of this kind of wholesome diet shouldn’t be a problem. And in this case, it’s probably ok to season your food with an extra shake or two of salt.