Morton Satin – Salt Institute
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has asked for public comments on a number of questions related to replacing salt in the diet. One question they are very interested in is, “What are the technical challenges in reducing salt in different food categories?” Another question is, “What are some of the implications of reducing salt in different foods (e.g., cost, functional properties, etc.). Both questions presume that there is an urgent need to reduce salt in foods and look at the challenges this might pose to food processors.
These are the wrong questions to ask. If the good health of consumers is the primary concern, then the most important question to ask is, “What happens to humans when their salt intake is reduced?” Only when that question is answered, can you presume to ask other questions.
So what does happen to humans when their salt intake is reduced?
Let’s start by remembering that current guidelines suggest we consume between 1,500 – 2,300 mg sodium per day. These recommendations don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
It is now established beyond all argument that sodium consumption levels below 2,800 – 3,000 mg sodium per day cause an immediate logarithmic spike in plasma renin and aldosterone levels – that powerful hormonal system designed to retain sodium if not enough is obtained from the food we eat. There is no way of stopping this response. Even those primitive rainforest tribes who have been forced to consume low levels of sodium for millennia, die at young ages with sky-high levels of plasma renin and aldosterone. They have never adapted to low salt intakes. The renin response is the most significant and easily measurable physiological reaction to sodium intake that humans have. It is a primary biological compensatory reaction – a reaction designed to compensate for a challenge – the challenge of inadequate sodium intake. This is the reason why the Institute of Medicine Committee Report of May 14, 2013 finally recognized the negative outcomes related to sodium reductions. Evidence supporting negative outcomes from high plasma renin levels will continue to come in, particularly in areas such as insulin resistance, one of the most evident and rapid manifestations of elevated renin/aldosterone levels.
So, while the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appears to have an inordinate amount of concern over the manipulations employed by the food industry to replace salt by fooling the organoleptic senses and emulating the functional roles of salt in foods, they are not addressing the well-established physiological role of salt in human metabolism and the cascade of negative health outcomes accompanying the renin/aldosterone response to insufficient sodium intake.
When it comes to our health, we will never arrive at right answers if we continue to ask the wrong questions.