In the past decades salt has been given a pretty bad reputation. “Lower your salt intake,” we’ve been warned. “Too much salt can cause higher blood pressure and is known to damage your heart,” the ‘authorities’ have reported. But has any of these claims actually been proven? Many studies actually show that eating too little salt can be harmful. Let’s take a look at it.
What Is Salt?
No doubt you have noticed sodium on the listed ingredients of a food product. Sodium is just another name for salt. 40% sodium and 60% chloride mixed together make salt. Some varieties of salt may contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Iodine is often added to table salt. Iodine first began being added to salt commercially in the United States in 1924 by the Morton Salt Company at the request of the government. This was done as a response to the fact that there were certain regions in the U.S., such as around the Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest, where people weren’t getting enough iodine in their diets due to it not being prevalent in the soil in those regions. Among other problems, this caused many people to develop goiters (swelling of the thyroid gland, also sometimes spelled “goitre”). About 90% of people who develop a goiter do so because of a lack of iodine in their diets, so the simple solution was to add iodine to something pretty much everyone consumes fairly regularly, namely salt. This practice was not thought up by the U.S., but was copied from the Swiss who were adding iodine to salt
at this time for the same reason. This resulted in researchers at the University of Michigan testing this practice out with good results and subsequently Morton Salt Company adopting the practice on a national level. Helping with fluid balance and nerve transmission and muscle function are the essential minerals contained in salt. Way back when, salt was commonly used to preserve food. Of course we use salt for enhancing the flavor of our food. Whether you use table salt, sea salt, or Himalayan salt, they are all very similar in their health benefits.
How Does Salt Affect Heart Health?
Health authorities have been telling us to keep our levels of salt intake to about one teaspoon daily. This is about 2,300 mg of sodium a day. It’s pretty obvious that most of us consume a lot more than that. It is true that reducing salt intake can lower blood pressure, especially in people with a medical condition called salt-sensitive hypertension. But, for healthy individuals, the average reduction is very subtle. One study from 2013 found that for individuals with normal blood pressure, restricting salt intake reduced systolic blood pressure
by only 2.42 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by only 1.00 mmHg. That is like going from 130/75 mmHg to 128/74 mmHg. These are not exactly the impressive results you would hope to get from enduring a tasteless diet. What’s more, some review studies have found no evidence that limiting salt intake will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death
. Authority Nutrition reports that there is some evidence suggesting that a low-salt diet can be downright harmful. They report the following negative effects of low salt intake. Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides:
Salt restriction has been linked to elevated LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Heart disease:
Several studies report that less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease. Heart failure:
One analysis found that restricting salt intake increased the risk of dying for people with heart failure. The effect was staggering, with a 160% higher risk of death in individuals who reduced their salt intake. Insulin resistance:
Some studies have reported that a low-salt diet may increase insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes:
One study found that in type 2 diabetes patients, less sodium was associated with an increased risk of death.
Should You Eat Less Salt?
There are some health conditions that make reduced salt intake a medical necessity. By all means, if your doctor tells you to lower your salt intake, you should follow the doctor’s advice. However, it you are healthy and you eat a healthy diet (few processed foods and single ingredient foods), you really don’t need to worry about your sodium intake. Eating extremely high amounts of salt can be very bad for you. On the flip side, it is harmful to eat too little also. As usual, staying in the middle is probably the best option.