Is Salt the Spice of Life?

May 19, 2011

Are the sodium guidelines going to change? A new study from Belgium found that sodium intake does not affect blood pressure

SupermarketGuru often advises monitoring dietary salt intake by reading food labels, especially frozen entrees, other packaged goods, and restaurant meals, as these contribute to upwards of 75 percent of our total daily sodium intake. We have also warned that eliminating salt altogether from the diet (although very hard to achieve) is not beneficial, and is actually detrimental to our health. Salt or sodium is necessary for many functions including controlling fluid levels, is important in proper nerve conduction, allows certain nutrients into and out of cells, and assists in maintaining optimal blood pressure- and so the amount of salt needed in the diet needs to stay at a “happy medium”.

For those who suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension, it is often advised by health care professionals to carefully watch salt intake, but in a recent Belgium study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists found that eating a diet high in salt may actually reduce the chances of developing heart disease!

Over the course of the eight years of the study, those with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease. Findings revealed that those with the lowest intake (average 2,500 mg, a little more than one teaspoon), gained no benefit in reducing the risk of developing hypertension versus those who had the highest levels of sodium intake (average 6,000 mg/day). Further research is necessary, and although prior studies have suggested that a lower salt intake helps to keep blood pressure in check, it remains unknown as to whether restricting salt consumption provides long term heart health benefits in the general population.

The main researcher of the study said, “that while a reduction in salt intake is advisable for people diagnosed with hypertension, or those who have experienced heart problems, no evidence was found… that the amount of salt intake is linked to the onset of these medical conditions… [and] it’s clear that one should be very careful in advocating generalized reduction in sodium intake in the population at large.”

It is important to note that the study only included white Europeans; therefore, the results may not translate to the general public nor people of other ethnicities.

It is still advised to monitor your salt intake, especially in packaged goods, frozen entrees, canned goods and at restaurants where calories and fats are also a concern. There are also other ways to lower blood pressure without medication, which include visiting the produce section of your market and filling your cart with plenty of fresh fruits, and vegetables, as well as whole grains, legumes and lean meat. Keep sugary beverages, candies and saturated animal fats to the minimum. Exercise is also an important component in keeping your heart healthy… after all what other way is there to strengthen the most important muscle in your body?