Is salt bad for you?
That’s a question that continues to be debated in the medical journals, but the short answer is probably not.
Too much salt or sodium is bad for you, like almost anything; but now we’re learning that too little sodium can be bad for us, too.
A few weeks ago, the Washington Post had an informative article explaining how salt came to be thought of as the enemy of good health, and why new research indicates that current low sodium guidelines might be too low: More scientists doubt salt is as bad for you as the government says
For years, the federal government has advised Americans that they are eating too much salt, and that this excess contributes yearly to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
But unknown to many shoppers urged to buy foods that are “low sodium” and “low salt,” this longstanding warning has come under assault by scientists who say that typical American salt consumption is without risk.
Moreover, according to studies published in recent years by pillars of the medical community, the low levels of salt recommended by the government might actually be dangerous.
“There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines,” said Andrew Mente, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario and one of the researchers involved in a major study published last year by the New England Journal of Medicine. “So why are we still scaring people about salt?”
New guidelines may be too low
The average American gets about 3400 mg of salt per day, even though the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 1500 mg/day. That’s really low!
As Aaron Carroll, MD, explains in one of his informational HealthCare Triage videos,
The NEJM [New England Journal of Medicine] study found that, compared to people who eat 3-6 grams of sodium a day, people who eat less than 3 grams a day have even higher rates of death.
Avoid highly processed foods more often than not
Salt has long been thought to be a primary cause of high blood pressure, and there are some people who are very sensitive to salt and need to be more careful about their diet. If you have high blood pressure, you should work with your doctor and/or a dietitian to find out if you are one of those people.
The rest of us, however, probably don’t need to be obsessive about buying only products labeled as “low sodium” or asking the fast food clerk how much sodium is in that bacon cheeseburger (come on, you know it’s high).
Keep in mind that close to 90% of our daily salt comes from processed foods and eating away from home. Common sense will tell you that cooking your own food and using fresh ingredients with lots of flavorful seasonings (lemon, pepper, garlic, chilies, etc.) is a healthier diet than fast food, deli sandwiches, and frozen pizzas.
Sure I enjoy the occasional cheeseburger and fries, but overall I cook my own meals and don’t use a lot of extra salt. And I don’t feel the need to obsessively calculate every milligram of sodium that passes my lips.
So unless you have a good reason not to, let common sense and moderation guide your salt intake.
Want to know more about how salt became such a huge part of our diet? These are a few of my favorite books: