April 4, 2014

Pass the Salt

Good news, salt lovers: A huge study has found that reducing sodium intake, even to recommended levels, can be bad for your health.

We are all so used to hearing that we need to reduce our salt intake that it is likely to come as a shock to learn that this may not be true. A new study published in the American Journal of Hypertension offers good news for all those who love salt — or at least love what salt does to make things taste better.

The large study found evidence that the amount of salt most Americans consume daily actually appears to be associated with better health outcomes than the fairly low levels currently recommended by the CDC. Those levels are now being viewed by many scientists as excessively and unrealistically low.

Most Americans consume about 2,600 to 5,000 mg of sodium per day. The Centers for Disease Control recommends healthy individuals under 50 years old take in fewer than 2300 mg/day. For those over 50, the number is even lower — less than 1500 mg/day.

The amount of salt most Americans take in daily actually appears to be associated with better health outcomes than the fairly low levels currently recommended by the CDC.

The findings of the study, a meta-analysis of 25 individual studies which measured results from over 274,683 individuals, support those of a 2013 Institute of Medicine report, which cast doubt on the current CDC recommendations but stopped short of establishing a specific optimum range of intake.

“The good news is that around 95% of the global population already consumes within the range we've found to generate the least instances of mortality and cardiovascular disease.” Dr. Niels Graudal, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Copenhagen Hospital in Denmark and a committee member at the Institute of Medicine said in a statement. He believes the results should encourage health agencies to revise the recommended range for sodium consumption upward.

Like that of many other nutrients, salt intake's relation to health follows a U-shaped pattern, meaning that consuming excessively high or low amounts of sodium — far outside the 2600 to 5000 mg/day range — is associated with a higher risk of death.

There appeared to be no clear optimal level for health. As long as a person's salt intake remained within the ideal range (2,645 – 4,945 mg/day), there was little variation in individuals' health.

The findings don't mean it's a good idea to indulge on nacho chips, but you can use the news to make eating better easier. Grab some salted nuts; go ahead and salt your salads, green beans and other veggies so you enjoy and eat them more.

The study is published in The American Journal of Hypertension.
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