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?

Salt, Healthy? Why It Might No Longer Be Public Enemy No. 1
Editor’s Note: It’s hardly surprising that this article came under fire from the public health community after it was published. Salt has become a controversial topic as more conflicting research questions whether too much, or too little, is harmful. Critics point to flaws in some of the research this article cites, including studies that are too short-term, that over-rely on one-day measures of sodium excretion as a meaningful measure of salt intake, and that draw conclusions for the population as a whole from studies of people with specific health conditions. In November, the American Heart Association released a new analysis supporting its recommendation that all Americans reduce their salt intake.

But as Michael Alderman, MD, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, told the New York Times last May, one of the problems with the salt debate is that “all the studies are inadequate.” The kind of research that could provide an answer once and for all—a large study in which people are randomly assigned to a low-sodium diet or not and then followed for years to measure health outcomes—may never happen, due to the expense, as well as logistical and ethical challenges.

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Reader’s Digest looks for the most thought-provoking health reads in the land. Gary Taubes, a science writer who has famously challenged conventional weight-loss wisdom, now raises important questions about how health public policy regarding salt was established. As the debate evolves, William B. White, MD, president of the American Society of Hypertension, offers this guideline: Salt intake is likely not a concern for healthy people. “But for those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease, there’s enough evidence to show that too much salt is toxic,” he says. If you’re concerned about how much salt you should be eating, don’t make any major changes without first talking to your doctor.—Lauren Gelman

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