Common Doctor’s Advice May Cause Heart Attack
We all know that salt is bad for us, right? What if we’re wrong? What if the organizations that have been advising us to cut out salt intake are mistaken? What if, in fact, low salt diets are actually harmful for health? What if eating salt to taste is good for us and can actually protect us against heart disease and other health problems? Read on because we’re going to sort it all out, and I’ll give you some tips for how to enjoy salt for health.
Why We’re Told To Eat Less Salt
Many of us have been led to believe that salt is harmful for our health. We’ve been told that salt causes high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and more. And yet it tastes so good that most of us eat a modest amount of it every day. On average, American men eat 3400 mg per day. Although that might seem like a lot, it’s actually only about half a teaspoon. But it’s more than we’re told that we should be eating.
How much should we be eating? Well, it depends on who you ask. According to the U.S. FDA we should be limiting our salt intake to just 2300 mg, which is only about one third of a teaspoon. The American Heart Association has an even more unfavorable view of salt. It recommends just 1500 mg or 1/4 of a teaspoon daily as a maximum.
If you believe the FDA and the AHA and other public health organizations, out salt gluttony is killing us. They warn us that if we want to stay healthy and avoid a terrible death we must slash our salt intake. Surely they recommend that because they know that salt is what is killing us, right?
Turns out that there isn’t a single study ever done that demonstrates that modest salt intake (i.e. 3400 mg) is associated with poor health. The recommendations of the FDA and the AHA are based on nothing more than speculation.
The idea is this: salt, or specifically the sodium in salt, can theoretically increase blood pressure. Therefore, restricting salt should fix high blood pressure problems. And short term studies show that immediately after restricting salt intake blood pressure does drop.
What Real Science (And Common Sense) Shows
The FDA and the AHA never bothered to test the long term effects. But a recent study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine did. The study was the largest and most comprehensive on the subject to date. The researchers tracked over 100,000 people for nearly 4 years each.
And what did they find? Does long term salt restriction improve health? Not according to the study. What the researchers found was that, in fact, in the long term salt restriction actually increases the risk of heart disease and death. Those who eat less than 3000 mg of salt per day are at a 27 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who eat between 3000 and 6000 mg per day - like the average American man.
If modest salt intake is good is more better? Not so fast. The risk also increases for men who eat more than 6000 mg of salt per day. But the average salt intake is well within the safety margin. In fact, it’s a tad on the low side of the safety margin.
This study didn’t prove that salt intake causes health or disease. But what it definitely does is blows the salt restriction advice out of the water. Salt restriction advocates have been caught with their pants down.
Salt: A Necessary Nutrient
Most people have been taught that salt is nothing more than a dangerous indulgence. But far from it, salt is one of the best sources of a necessary mineral: sodium. Sodium is essential for health. It regulates all of our bodily fluids, including our blood. It helps with muscle contractions. It helps to control blood sugar absorption. And it keeps our hearts and our nervous systems healthy. In other words, without sodium you’d die in short order.
Sodium is so necessary that animals are known to trek for many miles to seek out natural salt deposits. In some places where salt is rare even ants are known to make regular trips to far off deposits. The reason is simple: the salt is necessary for life.
Too little sodium/salt can produce lethargy, insomnia, cold intolerance, blood pressure problems, headache, dizziness, and even more severe symptoms in some cases. And now, as we’ve seen in this recent study, too little salt can increase rates of heart disease and death.
Of course, like anything, too much can be just as problematic as too little. There is no credible evidence to suggest that normal (3000 to 6000 mg) amounts of salt can cause high blood pressure, for example. But in excess of 6000 mg a day it may contribute to hypertension.
Could It Be Potassium?
What researchers have often overlooked, but what they are beginning to notice, is that more important than the amount sodium one eats is the ratio of sodium to potassium. That’s because sodium and potassium both are involved in many of the same processes in the body. However, they tend to have opposite actions. For example, sodium tends to increase blood pressure (which is necessary to keep it from dropping too low). Yet as we saw in a recent article, potassium decreases blood pressure. When sodium and potassium are in balance then blood pressure remains in a healthy range.
Many men who have high blood pressure are shown to be deficient in potassium. Restricting salt intake may at least temporarily reduce blood pressure into a normal range. But according to recent research it doesn’t improve health. That is because although it brings the sodium to potassium ratio into balance ,it does so in a way so that both are too low.
If you are trying to cut salt below 3000 mg per day, I urge you to reconsider. Sodium is an essential nutrient. Based on the very best research reducing your salt intake below 3000 mg per day will increase your risk of disease and death. Instead, keep your salt intake between 3000 mg and 6000 mg per day. And increase your potassium intake. In a recent article I gave you a plan for how to do that. The short version is this: eat more fruits and vegetables. Double your vegetable servings at each meal and snack on fruit throughout the day.
Of course, men who have kidney disease should be careful about both sodium and potassium intake because the kidneys may have a hard time eliminating them. But for everyone else, increasing your potassium will normalize your blood pressure while ensuring that you have enough of both essential nutrients to protect your health.