An ever increasing body of academic research is showing that the current level of salt Americans consume is not only perfectly healthy but that adopting low-salt recommendations will actually harm people. The most recent example of this is a review of all available research on salt and health by the Institute for Medicine (IOM).
The consensus of the medical experts on this panel was that blood pressure is only one of many factors that should be considered in evaluating dietary changes and studies indicate there are negative effects from reducing sodium to very low levels.
“This report cautions against drastic sodium reduction efforts to get people to consume dangerously low levels of sodium of 1,500 mg a day,” says Salt Institute Vice President of Science and Research, Morton Satin. “There is no scientific justification for population-wide sodium reduction to such low levels and the recognition by the IOM experts that such low levels may cause harm may help steer overzealous organizations away from reckless recommendations.”
As a result of the IOM report and other research on salt and health, Hypertension Canada has actually raised its recommendation on the minimum level of sodium consumption, the first national organization to do this. The available evidence shows that significant cuts in salt (sodium chloride) consumption can result in small reductions in blood pressure for some people, while causing a cascade of several other negative health impacts (insulin resistance, diabetes, increases in cholesterol and triglycerides, cardiovascular events, etc.) for everyone.
Despite the facts, some food activists are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the salt content of the food Americans eat, much like the recent ban on trans fats. Currently the FDA considers salt to be a “generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredient. A GRAS substance is one that has a long history of safe, common use in foods or that is determined to be safe, for the intended use, based on proven science.”
Multiple peer-reviewed studies published to date demonstrate that when sodium intakes fall below 3,400 mg/day (the amount the average American consumes) a rapid rise in plasma renin and aldosterone occurs and may result in insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, increased mortality from congestive heart failure and types 1 and 2 diabetes, more frequent cardiovascular events, cognition loss, stress, dehydration, and overall increased morbidity and mortality.
In addition, international demographic figures on life expectancy reveal that those countries which consume the lowest salt intake have the shortest life expectancies while those with the highest salt diets, including the Mediterranean and Japanese diets, are considered to be the most heart-healthy.
“The vindication of salt is probably the biggest health and nutrition story of this year,” says Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute. “Everyone knows salt tastes good, but the latest research published in leading medical journals confirms that salt is good for you, too. The medical studies underline what we have been saying for years: science is on salt’s side.”