We like debunking widely spread myths. We also like confirming things people believe to be myths. With some topics however, the answer lies somewhere in between. Where does salt lie? Many food products are “sodium free” and advertised as healthier. Is there any truth to this? Is salt really that bad for you? Let’s find out.
What Is Salt?
Salt is a mineral that is mostly composed of sodium chloride. It is widely regarded as one of the oldest food seasonings humans have used and has also been used for other purposes through early human history. In addition to giving more flavor to food, it has been used in food preservation, religious rituals and even as currency. Some of the oldest mines discovered by archeologists have been salt mines. The oldest in China, dating all the way back to 6000 BC.
So Is Salt Bad For You?
The problem with myths, is that they tend to speak in absolutes. The media and news channels use sensationalist journalism to catch a viewers attention and do a shoddy job on reporting the actual facts. This is the case with salt.
While there is some evidence to support the claim that large amounts of salt can negatively effect a persons health (anything in excess is bad for a persons health), there have been studies that show too little salt intake is much, much worse.
Still, many researchers aren’t buying the “salt is bad for you” claim. An analysis of seven different studies involving 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no evidence that cutting your salt intake reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. Then, in May of 2011, European researchers published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association which stated that the less sodium subjects excreted in their urine — a measure of prior consumption — the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease.
Their findings completely contradict the myth that excess salt has a negative impact on a persons health and show that too little salt may be considerably worse.
Yet, part of the problem with the tests is that everyone varies in how their body responds to salt. “It’s tough to nail these associations,” admits Lawrence Appel, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and the chair of the salt committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One oft-cited 1987 study published in the Journal of Chronic Diseases reported that the number of people who experience drops in blood pressure after eating high-salt diets almost equals the number who experience blood pressure spikes; many stay exactly the same. That is because “the human kidney is made, by design, to vary the accretion of salt based on the amount you take in,” explains Michael Alderman, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and former president of the International Society of Hypertension.
Salt is a delicate balance. Too little sodium in your diet is definitely unhealthy while too much sodium in your diet may be unhealthy. As with all things, a moderated amount is completely fine. People who already have high blood pressure or are at high risk for hypertension and heart disease may want to monitor their sodium intake. Either way, don’t be afraid of the salt, the important thing is to enjoy it sensibly.
Dumler, F (2009 Jan). “Dietary sodium intake and arterial blood pressure“. Journal of renal nutrition
Taylor, RS; Ashton, KE, Moxham, T, Hooper, L, Ebrahim, S (2011 Jul 6). “Reduced Dietary Salt for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials“. American journal of hypertension 24 (8): 843–53
July 14, 2011. Salt Wars Rage On: Scientific American