Salt, Healthy? Why It Might No Longer Be Public Enemy No. 1 | Reader's Digest

Salt, Healthy? Why It Might No Longer Be Public Enemy No. 1

For decades, we've been told to eat less salt for lower blood pressure—but could this advice be harming, rather than helping, our health?

By Gary Taubes from The New York Times

Salt, Healthy? Why It Might No Longer Be Public Enemy No. 1Photograph by Christian Mertes via Wikimedia Commons
The Problem with Too Little Salt

The idea that eating less salt can worsen health outcomes may sound bizarre, but it’s not new. A 1972 paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the less salt people ate, the higher their levels of renin, a substance secreted by the kidneys, which set off a physiological cascade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart disease. In this scenario: Eat less salt, secrete more renin, get heart disease, and then die prematurely.

Four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of dying prematurely. Other recent studies suggest that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a “safe upper limit” (one teaspoon a day if you’re healthy) is likely to do more harm than good. These studies, which covered some 100,000 people in more than 30 countries, showed that salt consumption is remarkably consistent—about one and a half teaspoons a day—among populations over time. This suggests that how much salt we eat is determined by physiological demands, not diet choices. And a handful of these studies—involving type 1 diabetics, type 2 diabetics, healthy Europeans, and patients with chronic heart failure—reported that the people eating salt at the lower limit of normal were more likely to have heart disease than those eating smack in the middle of the normal range. Effectively what the 1972 paper on the salt-renin connection would have predicted.

Proponents of the eat-less-salt campaign tend to deal with this contradictory evidence by implying that anyone raising it is a shill for the food industry (which has been widely criticized for adding salt to processed foods to improve taste) and doesn’t care about saving lives. An NIH administrator told me back in 1998 that to publicly question the science on salt was to play into the hands of the food industry.

When several agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, held a hearing last November to discuss how to go about getting Americans to eat less salt (as opposed to whether or not we should eat less salt), these anti-salt proponents argued that the latest reports suggesting damage from lower-salt diets should simply be ignored. According to cardiologist Graham MacGregor, MD, who has been promoting low-salt diets since the 1980s, the studies were no more than “a minor irritation that causes us a bit of aggravation.”

This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed.

Next: Who’s right? The other side of the salt shaker.

  • Your Comments

    • dana matherson

      salt is amazing, especially in angus burgers from mcdonalds on friday’s after school

    • http://www.facebook.com/tom.thompson.9699 Tom Thompson

      I was born in the 20s and during that period food for the working classes was basic and wholesome and didn’t contain any additives as they do today and we didn’t have the facilities with i.e. fridge/freezers,microwaves etc.and all foodstuffs was virtually organic with no forced growing and salt was used daily This continued on throughout wwii where many foods were dried out to powder form to preserve longer. During all that period and into the 50s. This was the ‘ Matchstick’ generation of hard manual workers and therefore salt never caused a health problem. Today, in the main, we have the ‘Push Button’ generation with a shorter working week.I started work at the age of 14 and worked 48 hours a week plus compulsory overtime, Many of that generation are now in the 90s plus. I have never seen so much obesity as we have in the the Western World to day. As a youth entering the R A F during wwii I weighed 10st.8lbs.. To day I weigh 10st. 12lbs.
      I remember one of my old schoolteacher’s saying ” how many teeth do you have ?….32 and that’s how many times you chew your food before you swallow it, you are not stoking a boiler and if you do you cant enjoy the taste”. To day I am still a slow eater and the last to leave the table.
                                                                                                            Tom Thompson
                                                                                                                Birmingham.

    • Clay

      Most importantly, all salts are not created equal.  Cheap, over-processed table salt has dangerous additives which the FDA does not require be disclosed (due to crooked politics).  Only NATURAL salts should be consumed.  So make sure your foods are made with natural salts and ask your restaurants what salt they use.  You can guess what chain restaurants use…  

      • Stevensamuels1

        salt is salt dude, it comes from mines which were formed from prehistoric lakes and has no ADDITIVES other than something to make it flow.    ” natural salt  ” or  ” sea salt ” are great scams to get you to pay ten times the amount of table salt .  i bet you buy ” bottled water ” too thinking you are getting something special . exactly what ” dangerous additives ” do you think are in salt ?

    • Clay

      njgggggggggjjo

    • Guest

      there once was a supposition that some black americans had a worse reaction to salt than others . what happened to that idea ? i think it was related to b/p and heart and cad as well.

    • Zzlatz

      BigPharma financial interests are involved here as well.
      These criminals knew very well what will be consequences of avoiding salt: more deceases and of course more medications buying. This is what they wanted. this is where they put their money – to bribe the “health” “authorities” to convince the public that salt is an enemy.
      and it’s not only with salt.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fivecentfather Ken Nichols

      Why do people listen to what the government tells them is healthy? Our bodies were designed to help us balance out everything. Eat what you want, but eat everything in moderation. If you crave salt, have something salty – just not EVERY day. If you crave salad, listen to your body and have some – you probably NEED it. Same with fruit, meat, eggs, milk, carbs, etc. Your body will tell you what it is short on. Too much of ANYTHING – no matter how healthy it is claimed to be — is not good for you. A varied diet is always best, but you don’t have to have some of everything every single day, to the point where you actually WORRY about not having a particular food. It’s OK to vary it over a longer term – a week maybe. If veggies seem distasteful today, skip em. Just keep in mind that your body will want to “catch up” on the crunchy green stuff soon.