The Salt Debate: Is Salt Bad for You?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been careful about the amount of salt that I eat and that I give my family, because it causes high blood pressure and is bad for our health, as high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular problems and strokes, or at least that is what I thought.
A recent article that I discovered while researching another topic has thrown this long held belief up in the air. I think that I must have been going around with my eyes shut as I didn’t realise that there was any controversy. I really believed that salt was the bad guy and that it had been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
European Study shows that High Salt Consumption is not Dangerous
The article I found provided details of a very recent European study that has recently been reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study is titled Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion and it was established to determine whether moderation of salt intake might reduce cardiovascular events and if 24 hour urinary sodium excretion predicts blood pressure and health outcomes.
The study followed over 3,500 participants for almost 8 years and found that systolic blood pressure but not diastolic pressure changes over time in line with increased or decreased sodium excretion but that any increase in systolic pressure did not translate into a higher risk of hyper tension or cardio vascular problems. More worryingly for me, the study also found that lower sodium excretion was associated with a higher rate of death from cardiovascular disease.
Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt
The (Political) Science of Salt
I then decided that I needed to know much more and this led me to this article written by Gary Taubes that was published in the Science magazine in August 1998. In the article Taubes points out that thirty years of the controversy of blood pressure benefits from salt reduction have shown how the demands of science have clashed with the public health policy. Whilst early research and studies appeared to support the value of salt reduction to the current recommended daily limit of 6 grams as the studies have improved, the apparent health benefits have diminished, while the debate has grown more and more heated.
I did more research and frankly just got more and more confused as for every article that I found supporting cutting back on salt I could found another giving the opposite view point. So I then thought that I need to find out some more about salt.
Salt Ponds in Sicily
So what did I find out?
- Salt is a natural chemical which is vital to our body
- We secret salt in our perspiration and tears
- Salt is important in the regulation of fluids in our bodies
- If we eat more salt that we need our bodies can dispose of it
- If we eat less than our bodies need our kidneys conserve it
- Sodium is just one of the chemicals that makes up our electrolyte balance
- The other chemicals are potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate
- Our muscles and neurons are activated by electrolyte activity
- A severe imbalance of electrolytes may lead to cardiac and neurological complication
Healthy Cookbooks by Ellie Krieger
So what do I now think
To be honest I’m not sure, but I think that I will not worry quite so much about the level of salt I add to food, because as a family we eat a healthy diet that is not high in processed foods and we all have normal blood pressure.
I’m certainly going to be taking any future health advice with a pinch of salt!