Eating Salt May Not be All That Unhealthy After All
A new study that spanned tens of thousands of people and lasted for eight years suggests that eating salt in moderate amounts may not present health problems.
Whether you’re in great shape or you are constantly looking at ways to improve your health, you’ve probably heard that you should cut back on salt in your diet. For years now, people have pointed to salt as the cause of plenty of health-related issues, including potential problems for the heart and strokes – just wander through a grocery store and look at all the low sodium offerings that claim to be “heart safe” if you need proof.
But it turns out salt may have been getting a bad rap.
A new study from the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, along with research from colleagues in 21 countries has found no evidence that moderate sodium consumption leads to increased health issues. That isn’t to say that sodium is healthy for you, but a moderate amount doesn’t seem to cause any health concerns.
The study was conducted over the course of eight years and followed 94,000 people, ages 35 to 70 from 18 countries. The results showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes was only found in people that consumed more than five grams of sodium per day, or roughly 2.5 teaspoons of salt.
That amount of sodium isn’t unheard of in a diet, but it isn’t common either. Of all the countries featured in the study, only China frequently included that much salt in their diet – more than 80 percent of communities there had an average sodium intake of five grams or higher. By comparison, most communities have an average sodium consumption of 3-5 grams a day, or roughly 1.5 to 2.5 teaspoons of salt.
This study contradicts World Health Organization recommendations, which call for less than two grams of sodium a day as a means of preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke. The American Heart Association is even stricter, calling for a diet of less than 1.5 grams per individual. According to the new research, however, there is little evidence to justify either amount.
“Only in the communities with the most sodium intake — those over five grams a day of sodium — which is mainly in China, did we find a direct link between sodium intake and major cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke,” said Andrew Mente, first author of the study and a PHRI researcher.
“In communities that consumed less than five grams of sodium a day, the opposite was the case. Sodium consumption was inversely associated with myocardial infarction or heart attacks and total mortality, and no increase in stroke.”
Part of the disparity, the study suggests, comes from the previous research, which focused on individuals rather than large groups. That’s an increasingly noted flaw in many of our common beliefs when it comes to health, and it often leads to assumptions we treat as fact.
The study also went a bit further and found that even when the salt intake is relatively high, it can be offset by a balanced diet that includes plenty of potassium.
“We found all major cardiovascular problems, including death, decreased in communities and countries where there is an increased consumption of potassium which is found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, potatoes and nuts and beans.”
All of this isn’t to say you can go wild with salt, and it is important to know how much sodium is in the foods you eat to begin with. But you can relax a little. Or as Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”