Take This With a Grain of Salt

Salt has played a central role in human existence from the dawn of time. Early civilizations used it for money. Everyone uses it for seasoning. Good people are considered the salt of the earth. Wow, as ubiquitous as salt is, why is there so much disagreement over salt in our daily lives?

Without salt, we will die. That establishes something of a "lower bound" on how much salt to eat. But how much is ideal? That seems to depend on which scientific research you choose to believe. Two recent research reports have come to dramatically different conclusions.

One study was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dariush Mozaffarian and associates at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. They studied salt intake in 66 countries around the world. The study tried to connect salt intake with the incidence of cardiovascular deaths. They found that in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand about 10% of cardiovascular deaths were associated with high salt consumption. On the far end of the spectrum, people living in central and east Asia had 25% of cardiovascular deaths related to salt. So, eating a lot of salt is bad, right? Well, maybe, or maybe not.

A second study, published in very same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, came to a different conclusion. This research examined the long-term health records for hundreds of thousands of people and divided them groups based on their salt intake. Their surprising results shows that people on low-salt diets (less than 3,000 mg per day) were measurably more likely to die of a heart attack than people who consumed twice as much salt. Given that the American Heart Association recommends limiting your salt intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, this is a shocking conclusion.

What can  you learn from these conflicting results? The wild card seems to be blood pressure. People struggling with hypertension (high blood pressure) at good candidates for a limited salt diet. Otherwise, there seems to be no benefit, and possible harm, from restricting your salt.

So which way does your salt shake out?

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