Is It Time to Cut Back on Salt-Reduction Advice?
There’s a reason we have taste buds devoted to detecting salt: we need salt in the diet to survive. But in recent decades, experts have warned that we’re all eating too much salt. Excess salt could have dire consequences for our health, we’ve been told. Too much salt raises blood pressure, for instance. And high blood pressure puts you at risk for deadly heart disease. Americans typically consume up to three or more grams of salt daily (3,400 milligrams; which is more than a teaspoon), thanks to loads of salt added by manufacturers to most processed foods.
But a new study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, and conducted by the highly respected Institute of Medicine (IOM), suggests that high salt intake isn’t as bad as we’ve been led to believe. Nor is a low-salt diet necessarily healthier. On the contrary, getting too little salt in the diet may be worse than getting too much in some instances, according to the IOM study.
Thought leaders like the American Heart Association continue to advocate for no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt (about one-half teaspoon) per day, but the new IOM report contradicts that advice. Below 2,300 milligrams per day, say investigators, there is simply no evidence that additional health benefits occur. Rather, some people may actually experience harm if their intake of salt falls too low. Harm, in this case, means possibly higher rates of heart attack and death. The Institute did not attempt to suggest an optimal intake of salt, but they noted that old recommendations to cut back drastically were based on inadequate evidence and may simply be wrong.
Brian L. Strom, Ann L. Yaktine, and Maria Oria, Editors; Committee on the Consequences of Sodium Reduction in Populations; Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Institute of Medicine. IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2013. Sodium intake in populations: Assessment of evidence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.