A Salty Debate

Conflicting research and recommendations have emerged in recent years. So, should we still be worried about sodium in our diet?

For decades, we’ve been told that salt is bad for us—particularly when it comes to high blood pressure and heart health. Yet that hasn’t stopped us from pouring it on: Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily—well beyond the 1,500 to 2,300 mg range recommended by the American Heart Association.

Yet in recent years, there’s been both public debate and conflicting research regarding acceptable levels of sodium, and the danger of going “too low.” But Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., spokesperson for the American Heart Association, says it’s not time to pick up your salt shaker for two important reasons:

1. Accurate research is difficult to come by. Determining how much salt an individual actually consumes is challenging and costly, and not all methods are equal, Appel says. For example, some recent studies relied on “spot urine” testing (a one-time sample) to estimate sodium intake, versus 24-hour testing that’s been proven more accurate. “Fortunately, with sodium we have a good intermediate outcome and that’s blood pressure, and we’ve been able to show a pretty convincing relationship between the two,” he says.

2. Low sodium intake isn’t a public health problem. Why? “It’s almost impossible to get too little salt as a typical American—even if you’re preparing all your food yourself,”

Appel says. (Remember: even most fruits and vegetables contain a small amount of sodium.)

Breaking up with salt

So, what should we do to reduce consumption? Tracking salt intake might sound sensible, but it’s difficult to do accurately. Appel suggests a more realistic approach. “Reduce salt intake where possible by choosing foods that are fresh and not processed when you can. And read labels and make lower-sodium swaps,” he says. “The evidence on sodium and high blood pressure is persuasive. It’s a problem that affects virtually all of us and we need to approach it that way.” <

 

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