The federal government has been advocating a low salt diet for over two decades.
The Obama administration pushed hard for manufacturers to lower added salt to our foods despite consumer demand and complaints from manufacturers that salt was a natural preservative.
While the media has been dutifully reporting these government edicts, there has been a robust debate in medical circles questioning the lack of data to support the idea that lowering salt or sodium intake has any effect on health.
In fact, the largest study on sodium shows that the federal government’s recommendations actually put your health at risk.
Not getting enough salt in your diet can cause problems with your body and health. Here are a few symptoms of a salt deficiency:
- Reduced hydration, especially in athletes
- Muscle cramps
- Higher risk of heart attack
- Cognitive decline in elderly
The largest and most recent study on the effects of salt on the cardiovascular system was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2011.
The ambitious study looked at the amount of salt in the bodies of 28,000 people.
They found that people who got less than 3 grams of sodium per day were at the highest risk of cardiac issues.
Those who consumed over 7 grams were the second highest at risk.
The study found that people who consumed 4-6 grams per day were shown to be at the lowest risk.
Yet according to 2016 targets, the government still wanted to lower Americans daily salt intake to 2-3 grams per day.
The government’s war on salt is based on the belief that it causes high blood pressure. But why do they believe a high salt intake equals high blood pressure?
The evidence they cite is from a 2001 study of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
This study was conducted on 412 people with high blood pressure who ate a specialized diet for 30 days where the only variable was sodium.
People with high blood pressure lost weight and had lowered blood pressure.
Everyone who ate more fruits and vegetables had their blood pressure go down. The smallest amount of change was when they lowered sodium.
But they discounted the effect of fresh food and only looked at the sodium.
From this one study, the government supposes that everyone must lower their salt intake.
They are doing this despite the study published in JAMA in 2011—which was a broader study, tracked people longer, and came out ten years after the DASH study.
In an article from the New York Times following the DASH diet study, doctors on both sides of the sodium debate gave their opinions:
“Dr. Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and past president of the American Society of Hypertension, said: ”I don’t believe there is any basis whatsoever for a public health recommendation for eating any particular sodium content diet. A scientific problem ought to be solved by data. And there is no data.”
Cutting back on sodium from 3,300 milligrams a day to 2,400 milligrams lowered blood pressure in the study by an average of 2.1/1.1 for people who ate a normal diet. Changing to a DASH diet lowered their pressure substantially more, by 5.9/2.8, without any salt restriction at all.
Furthermore, in people with normal blood pressure on a DASH diet, moderate salt restriction caused only tiny changes in blood pressure, and even extreme salt restriction lowered pressure only in black participants, but not in whites or Asian-Americans.
”The first 10 messages that come from these studies should be, you’ve got to get your fruit and vegetables and low-fat dairy products,” Dr. McCarron said. ”These studies have really provided clarity about diet and blood pressure control like we’ve never had.”
In short, the study used to “prove” that lowering salt intake will lower blood pressure is the same study that shows simply eating more fruits and vegetables lowers blood pressure the most.
Yet our government and medical zealots continue the war on salt.