Shake the Salt Habit, or Just Shake On the Salt?
Health advice delivered by experts and disseminated by the media can be confusing. It’s certainly frustrating for consumers, who rely on experts for credible advice. And it’s frustrating for the experts, too, because the public looks to them for answers to often-complex and confusing questions about diet and health.
Salt is a good example. For the past few decades, experts have warned that too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We were encouraged to “shake the salt habit,” with the understanding that virtually all of us already consume more salt than we need. To be clear, the substance at issue is sodium, an essential element than our bodies need to survive and function properly.
But sodium only makes up half of a given molecule of table salt. So what about that other half?
For some reason, scientists have largely ignored half of every salt molecule: chloride. Chloride is also essential for life. And now, scientists in the United Kingdom say, it’s suddenly become apparent that LOW chloride is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease among people with high blood pressure. In fact, low serum chloride is as strong a risk factor for heart disease as high sodium, or high blood pressure, are.
So there you have it. Avoid salt. Eat salt. Who knows which is right? I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Moderation in all things, perhaps? Don’t go overboard—either by eliminating all salt, or by sprinkling too much of the stuff on everything in sight. Here’s some good advice I feel confident in sharing: Try to relax and enjoy what you eat. Just keep it real. Avoid the processed foods, which contain most of the added salt in the first place. Enjoy real food, grown by real people.
Cook NR. Salt intake, blood pressure and clinical outcomes. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2008 May;17(3):310-4. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e3282f4b720.
McCallum L, Jeemon P, Hastie CE, Patel RK, Williamson C, Redzuan AM, et al. Serum Chloride Is an Independent Predictor of Mortality in Hypertensive Patients. Hypertension. 2013 Aug 26. [Epub ahead of print]