Dietary Guidelines on Salt Drastic, Simplistic, Unrealistic
On January 31, 2011, the federal government released its new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Updated every five years, the guidelines are supposed to provide authoritative advice to promote health and reduce the risk of diet-related diseases. Unfortunately, the guidelines may have significant negative health consequences.
The new guidelines recommend daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg and 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
This ignores or overlooks recent research that points to obesity, not salt, as the main culprit in rising blood pressure rates. Many nutritionists predict the guidelines will worsen, not improve, the obesity crisis because people will consume more calories to satisfy their innate salt appetite.
What’s more, dramatically decreasing sodium can be dangerous. A recent Harvard study links low-salt diets to an immediate increase in insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes.
“These guidelines are a classic example of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ by the federal food police,” said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute, which represents the salt industry. “While increasing obesity and hypertension rates are health concerns we can all share, it’s simplistic and dangerous to attribute them to salt, an essential nutrient.”
A major assumption behind the sodium guidelines is that Americans are eating more salt, which is increasing blood pressure rates. But a September 2010 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by two renowned Harvard researchers shows that while hypertension has increased among Americans over the last 40 years sodium consumption has remained flat. The findings were a shock to some in the medical community who incorrectly assumed increasing salt intake was the main driver in population-wide hypertension.
“If high blood pressure increased significantly but salt consumption did not, then it is obvious that the Dietary Guidelines regarding salt are baseless,” said Morton Satin, vice president of science and research at the Salt Institute. “There is no scientific research indicating that population-wide sodium reduction will lead to better overall health – on the contrary, available clinical research predicts several negative consequences across all age groups.”
Recent research (PDF: Can Dietary Sodium Intake be Modified by Public Policy? by David A. McCarron, Joel C. Geerling, Alexandra G. Kazaks, Judith S. Stern) involving data collected from more than 19,000 individuals in 33 different countries showed that healthy humans consume sodium within a relatively narrow range of 2700 mg to 4900 mg a day. The new US Dietary Guidelines recommending only 1,500 mg of sodium per day for most Americans, if followed, would make the United States the only modern society with salt consumption that low.