(DGIwire) – Salt consumption has increased during modern times. Researchers have been looking at the effects of this increased intake for a long time. Generally most people eat more than the recommended amounts but some studies have found evidence that you can also eat too little. It seems people have different reactions to sodium intake. With conflicting information, how can a person know what’s right for them?
For starters, salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride and it is used in food for both preservation and flavor. Sodium ions are needed in limited quantities by most living organisms, as are chloride ions. Sodium along with potassium is needed to regulate the fluid balance in the body. Sodium ions are also used for electrical signaling in the nervous system.
In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that people consume no more than 1500–2300 mg of sodium per day depending on their age. However most Americans consume 3500 mg or more.
Most of this intake comes from processed and prepared foods so it is difficult for someone to determine exactly how much they are getting. Using the saltshaker less at home is not the answer because according to the HHS, about 75% of an individual’s sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods including restaurant meals. With more people eating out and eating prepared foods at home, it’s easy to see why the numbers are so high.
What’s the problem with high sodium intake?
Too much sodium is associated with several known health risks including, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney disorders, dehydration and swelling, digestive diseases, electrolyte and hormone imbalance.
Health experts say sodium reduction could also save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs over the next decade.
Just when we’re ready to cut back, a new large worldwide study, involving more than 130,000 people from 49 countries found that contrary to popular beliefs, low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death when compared to average salt consumption. These researchers concluded that the only people who need to worry about reducing sodium are those with high blood pressure and also have high salt consumption. Looking specifically at the relationship between sodium intake and death, heart disease and stroke, they found few differences in people with high blood pressure compared to those with normal blood pressure. They concluded that even in people with high blood pressure, low-sodium intake is associated with more heart attacks, strokes, and deaths compared to average intake.
Other studies have shown that low-sodium, compared to average sodium intake is associated with increased cardiovascular risk and mortality, even though low sodium intake does lower blood pressure. The real question is not whether blood pressure is lower with very low salt intake, but whether it improves overall health.
“Proper electrolyte balance is needed. Sodium and potassium have opposite effects. Too much sodium increases blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, while high potassium intake can help relax blood vessels, eliminate excess sodium and decrease blood pressure. We need more daily potassium than sodium, but the average American’s diet provides the opposite averaging 3,300 mg of sodium but just 2,900 mg potassium,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.
A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine concurs, finding that people with the highest sodium intake had a 20% higher risk of death from any cause than people with the lowest sodium intakes. People with the highest potassium intakes had a 20% lower risk of dying than people with the lowest intakes. The most important factor for health appears to be the relationship of sodium to potassium in the ones diet.
People who consume high amounts of sodium and have high blood pressure or other health issues associated with excess sodium should consult their doctors and determine if reducing their intake helps. Less but not too little may be ideal.
Griesel adds, “People can make simple dietary changes to lower their risk by eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, which are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium along with eating less bread, cheese, processed meat and other processed foods that are generally high in sodium and low in potassium.