To Salt or Not to Salt?

On Monday we discovered Uncle Louis’ salt shaker use wasn’t a big problem for his high blood pressure.  (Aunt Edna’s nagging, on the other hand.)  In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week concludes Uncle Louis should consume MORE salt to lower his risk of cardiovascular related death.

More salt=Less risk?

The study followed 3,681 individuals over the course of roughly 8 years.  Participants were divided into groups based on their salt intake: low, medium, or high. The low salt group experienced fewer cardiovascular related deaths (1.9%) than the high salt group (4.1%).   Blood pressure remained similar across all study groups.

The Salt Institute, the industry’s lobby group, immediately called for a change in the dietary recommendations from the USDA.  Other salt industry supporters celebrated the study results as evidence of salt’s benefits.

Read the study abstract here; a study review by Food Safety Newshere.

Not so fast on the potato chips….

Naturally, the medical establishment immediately began refuting the study’s methods and conclusions.  The age of the participants (mostly under 40) and smallish sample size drew the most criticism.   Also under attack were the authors’ broad conclusions from a single correlation study.

Another point of view

Obesity doc Yoni Freedhoff, offered another possibility on his blog, Weighty Matters.  He spectulates maybe:

Sodium’s isn’t a causal agent of disease but instead given that processed foods are phenomenally high in sodium, is a useful biomarker for the degree of processed foods a person’s consuming, and that it’s the huge volumes of sugar and pulverized flour (that’s more often than not packaged with gobs of sodium) that’s actually causal for cardiovascular disease and death.

My Opinion

I take the study results with a grain of salt (ugh, sorry. I’m embarrassed).  But I don’t dismiss their findings completely.  As I said in my “truth” post, differing views in medicine are common, and not altogether a bad thing.  They ensure we continue to review medical dogma to ensure we didn’t miss something. 

Perhaps salt is horrible for our health.  Perhaps it can actually lower our risk of heart disease.  The truth is there is evidence to support both views, and both sides give compelling evidence.  I also can’t ignore underlying motivations (read: money) on either side of the debate.

Regarding salt intake my suggestion remains:  Avoid processed foods as much as you can.  Use the salt shaker to add flavor to meals. 

Follow those guidelines and you’ll ensure you take in a moderate amount of salt.  For better or worse.

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