Should you cut out or cut down on salt? Medical students are always taught you should limit salt intake. A one-recommendation-fits-all concept. But whether and how much everyone reduce his or her salt intake is the subject of a never-ending medical debate.
Myth: Cut way down on your salt intake to protect yourself.
Fact: Moderation, not avoidance, is the solution. Your body needs some salt!
My Recommendation: Read labels. Keep your intake to 2-3 grams daily. Do cut down on the amount of processed food you eat. That’s where you can run up your salt intake…and fast!
I’ve seen a lot of the conflicting reports over the years and long ago been skeptical about reducing sodium too much. After all, we are electrical beings, and we need sodium to help conduct impulses throughout the body.
Multiple randomized trials have produced conflicting conclusions about whether reductions in sodium effectively reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. So the enduring question remains, what is too much, what is too little? There is no clear answer yet.
The general recommendation in the U.S. for sodium intake has been 2.3 g (about a teaspoon) a day, and 1.5 g if you are over 50; this echoed the American Heart Association (AHA)’s position until recently, when the AHA changed its recommendation to less than 1.5 grams for all Americans “as part of the definition of ideal cardiovasuclar health.” Problem is, three major heart failure studies show that less than 1.8 g significantly increases morbidity and mortality compared with individuals who take 2.8 g.
A comprehensive 2012 research review of salt intake and cardiovascular events cites the conflicted outcomes in major studies involving more than 360,000 subjects. Too little sodium leads to increased plasma rennin activity (a measurement of the enzyme rennin’s ability to regulate blood pressure and sodium/potassium ratio), insulin resistance, sympathetic nerve activity, and triglycerides. One of the studies cited in the review was a trial involving retired Taiwanese men. It showed that an average intake of 3.8 g improved survival compared to 5.3 g.
How Much Salt is Okay?
As mentioned above, I recommend keeping your sodium intake to 2-3 g daily, and this requires reading labels. In my clinical practice, I saw patients over the years who restricted their sodium intake so much that they developed fatigue. I’ve always suggested a pinch of salt in a little bit of water is good for everybody, including heart failure patients, and specifically in the form of Celtic, Himalayan, or some good version of sea salt, which doesn’t have the added anti-caking and other extra that go into standard processed table salt. Both types of salts, unprocessed and processed, contain the same amount of sodium.
One non-debatable fact is that most sodium intake comes from processed foods overloaded with salt, and you can easily and quickly exceed healthy levels. Among the most overloaded salty items are fast foods, soy sauces, salad dressings, bacon, sausage and sandwich meats, snacks, salted nuts, pickled foods, and soups, broths and gravies.
The authors of the salt review, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said that there is no evidence for universal reduction of sodium intake. What’s really needed, they said, are very rigorous, large-scale randomized trials involving thousands of people that could help resolve this confusing question. I second the motion.
Want to eat healthy, but not too sure how to get started in the kitchen?
- Watch my Healthy Cooking video series through which my son, Step and I show you how to make our favorite dishes and snacks while explaining the health benefits associated with consuming them.
- Watch my Light & Healthy Breakfast video series. In it, I tell you about my favorite breakfast ingredients and demonstrate several ways of combining them. What great ways to start your day!
Visit Drsinatra.com and read:
- Eliminating Hidden Salt Helps Control High Blood Pressure
- High Salt + Low Potassium = High Risk of Sudden Death
- Alderman MH, Cohen HW. Dietary sodium intake and cardiovascular mortality: controversy resolved? Am J Hypertension, 2012;25(7):727–34. [Abstract.]
- American Heart Association (AHA). Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Sodium. Heart.org, accessed May 2, 2014.
© 2014 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.