The Great Salt Debate

Traditional medical advice for controlling high blood pressure and helping to prevent heart attack and stroke has included limiting salt in a healthy diet but there has been a great deal of controversy over whether or not there are measurable benefits to cutting out salt.

National dietary guidelines and organizations including the American Heart Association recommend that adults over the age of 50 keeps sodium levels very low at 1,500 milligrams per day or just over a half a teaspoon of salt.  But new research is questioning the benefit of drastically limiting salt to prevent health problems and looking at the potential harm that could be caused by too low sodium levels.

The average salt consumption in the United States is about 3,400 milligrams per day, which is much higher than the recommended 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams, a level that will not raise blood pressure.  But a recent Italian study suggests that while a diet very high in sodium (over 7,000 milligrams per day) was found to increase risk for heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure, a diet lower than 3,000 milligrams also raised the risk.  Lower levels of sodium (1,840 milligrams) were also associated with a higher rate of hospital readmission in patients with congestive heart failure.

Too little salt can raise triglyceride levels and increase insulin resistance, according to dietary sodium expert Dr. Michael H. Alderman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which can increase risk for heart disease.

However, because most North American people consume far more salt than they should, it is important to note the sodium content of processed foods such as lunch meats, cheese, soups, breads, pizza, pastas, snacks like popcorn, chips, pretzels and restaurant meals.  We need salt to help retain water in the body, stimulate muscle contraction and help digest food but too high levels can lead to hypertension.

The bottom line?  Yes, we need some salt in our diet but the overwhelming majority of adults, especially those at risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, could benefit from lowering their sodium intake.

To learn more about the salt content of food visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at: .