Salt has a bad reputation among health-conscious people, but the picture isn’t black and white. The truth about whether salt is good or bad depends on the individual. Some people need more, while others need less. Read on to learn the official recommendations and the risks of both high & low salt intake. The Salt Controversy
People tend to think that a food component is either good or bad , while most of the time the truth is somewhere in between.
Anytime there’s a controversy or a mix of opinions, the good/bad paradigm is usually flawed.
Something can be good in one way and bad in another. It could be good for one person and bad for another.
It could be good in one situation and bad in another.
The reason we think in these terms is that it causes us cognitive strain (or ‘dissonance’) to believe something we’re doing can be both harmful and helpful. We want the benefits, but we don’t want the harm.
Salt is one of those things that have no clear answers but is dependent on the person and dose .
Just like with saturated fat and the controversies surrounding it, people tend to swing between the extremes when it comes to salt, instead of finding the right balance. How Much Salt Do We Consume?
Salt consists of sodium ( 40% ) and chloride ( 60% ), both essential nutrients needed by your body to function.
The average sodium included in the typical US diet is between 3,400-3,840 mg/day [ 1 , 2 ].
It is estimated that salt intake in paleolithic times was less than 1 g/day [ 3 ], much less than our 9.6 g/day in the average American diet [ 1 ].
In fact, an article in the Journal of Cancer Detection and Prevention observes that from Paleolithic to modern times, man’s intake of potassium has significantly decreased, while sodium has significantly increased. The Sodium/Potassium ratio has been reduced by about 20X [ 4 ].
Where does our salt come from? About 75% of our daily salt intake comes from processed foods [ 5 ].
Only 15% comes from knowingly adding salt (ie, cooking and table salt) [ 5 ].
Salt Intake Recommendations
Major United States health organizations advise limiting our sodium intake to under 2,300 mg per day: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says limit to 2,300 mg per day.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)recommends 1,500 to 2,300 mg.
In normal, everyday measurements, that would mean aiming for less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. The Bad: Potential Problems With Too Much Salt
High Blood Pressure
Health professionals worldwide recommend restricting your sodium intake because it increases blood pressure, which is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and stroke [ 8 , 9 ].
A 2013 Cochrane review found that in people with high blood pressure, reducing salt lowers blood pressure by 5.4 points systolic and 2.8 points diastolic. Individuals with normal blood pressure show a reduction of 2.4 and 1.0 [ 10 ].
One study found that lowering sodium intake was more effective at reducing blood pressure in Black and Asian patients than in Whites [ 11 ].
On the other hand, restricting salt may not have direct effects on the risk of death or cardiovascular disease, even in people diagnosed with high blood pressure [ 12 , 13 ]. Inflammation
One concern with excess salt is that it can raise the risk of autoimmune disease by increasing Th1 7 -related inflammation [ 14 ].
Salt-induced inflammation has been found to be a factor in worsening hypertension-related tissue damage [ 15 ], congestive heart failure [ 16 ], and asthma [ 17 ].
Excess salt can raise aldosterone , which is implicated in many chronic diseases and can contribute to inflammation [ 18 , 19 ].In particular, aldosterone increases IL-6 , IL-1b [ 20 ], TNF [ 21 ] and induces Nf-kB , the master control switch of inflammation [ 18 ].However, one found no association between higher sodium intake and systemic inflammation [ 22 ]. Increased Calorie Intake High salt intake may cause you to consume more calories (11% more) than you would otherwise [ 23 ]. Headaches In a study of sodium consumption and headaches , people who ate foods high in sodium – around 8 g per day – had one third more headaches than those who ate foods low in sodium – around 4 g per day [ 24 ].Additionally, it made no difference whether the volunteers ate the standard Western diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet [ 24 ].However, it could be the effect of other components in those foods; these studies do not show causation. Cognitive Decline In an animal study, a high salt diet led to a significant decrease in the naturally occurring antioxidants and marked an increase of damaging free radicals in the memory center of the brain [ 25 ].In a rat study, older rats who were put on a high salt diet had a significant worsening of blood pressure levels, memory, anxiety , and overall cognitive health [ 26 ]. Kidney Stones Those who are prone to kidney stones may need to reduce their salt intake, as high sodium excretion also leads to a higher level of calcium excretion in the urine [ 27 ].Again, evidence on this topic is mixed, but it has been demonstrated that if you consume excess sodium, you lose more sodium and calcium in the urine [ 27 ].Subjects who consumed the most sodium tended to lose the most calcium in the urine. Higher calcium excretion may lead to kidney stone formation, particularly if fluid intake is inadequate [ 28 ]. Bone Loss Because of this increased calcium excretion with higher sodium intake, those with osteoporosis may benefit from a lower salt intake as well, but there’s no solid clinical evidence to back this up . Cancer Risk A comprehensive meta-analysis detected […]