Salt is not as bad for your health as we've previously thought. At least according to a controversial new study which suggests cutting down on salt may only be worthwhile in countries with very high sodium consumption, such as China. So let's see if some salt myths are busted.
The World Health Organization recommends that populations consume less than 2 grams a day of sodium. This is a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease and increased blood pressure, which might lead to strokes. 2 grams of sodium is the equivalent of 5 grams of salt, and that means almost 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon of salt = 5.69 grams of salt).
The authors of the recent study say that sodium being bad for your health might have been one of many salt myths. They also said that no country has ever managed to get their population's salt or sodium intake that low. Also, their research shows it might be pointless to reduce salt consumption in countries like the UK and the US.
The researchers found that the harmful effects of sodium only occurred in countries like China. There, the liberal use of soy sauce leads to sodium levels over 5 grams a day, the equivalent of 12 grams of salt. They also say that very low levels of salt actually led to more heart attacks and deaths. This suggests that moderate salt intake may be protective.
“Our study adds to growing evidence to suggest that, at moderate intake, sodium may have a beneficial role in cardiovascular health, but a potentially more harmful role when intake is very high or very low. This is the relationship we would expect for any essential nutrient and health. Our bodies need essential nutrients like sodium, but the question is how much,” said professor Andrew Mente from the Population Health Research Institute of Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University.
What critics say about salt myths
The study involved more than 90,000 people in more than 300 communities in 18 countries. The research team published it in the Lancet medical. Prof Andrew Mente from the Population Health Research Institute of Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University and his colleagues are the ones who lead it.
Two years ago, the same team published a study with similar results, also in the Lancet, looking at individuals. Critics called the study ‘bad science’. The American Heart Association rejected its findings.
Now, even if the study looked at communities rather than individuals, the critics claimed that the researchers did not accurately measure the amount of sodium in people’s urine. This is something that needs to be done over a 24 hour period. Another claim is that they used ill participants in the study. This meaning that people who don’t eat much food, and consequently eat less salt; in this case, the illness is the one that leads to death, not the lower salt intake.
Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said campaigns to lower salt intake have been beneficial in some countries. “Intakes of salt in the UK have fallen over the past 30 years from over 12 grams per day to 7 to 8 grams per day, and this has been accompanied by a fall in average blood pressure of the population. Japan used to have a very high prevalence of high blood pressure and high rates of stroke, and took action to cut salt intake in the 1970s and now has much lower rates,” he said.
Healthy sodium intake guidelines
According to The World Health Organization, salt consumption at home can be reduced by:
- not adding salt during the preparation of food;
- not having a salt shaker on the table;
- limiting the consumption of salty snacks;
- choosing products with lower sodium content.
You may also want to read Unhealthy Food: 10 Items to Limit in Your Menu.