Blog Post

In this sodium-rich world, can one eat too little salt?

May 30, 2013

    Paige Baschuk, Daily Briefing

    Sodium was once a highly coveted mineral that garnered high prices...but today, it's so ubiquitous that salt is in everything from French fries to oatmeal. We've been told countless times by countless health groups that we should be wary of salt in our diets or we will attract diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.

    So, how do we interpret the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) warning that cutting too much sodium from your diet can have a detrimental effect on heart health? Certainly not by sprinkling it on, food columnist Mark Bittman writes in the New York Times.

    The IOM report changes "nothing about the general advice about salt and high blood pressure," Bittman argues. The IOM simply warns against reducing sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day—a nearly impossible feat in our food culture, where sodium lurks in almost every food item you can image.

    "Of course you need sodium, but insufficient consumption is hardly a public health threat," Bittman quips.

    The IOM report rightly calls for more research into salt consumption. But the real problem isn't what we know about salt—it's where we get it. Only 10% of the salt we consumed is added at the table. About 80% of our salt consumption comes from processed foods, and another 10% is naturally occurring.

    "Salt intake—like weight, and body mass index—is a convenient baseline for public policy people to talk about. If you focus on eating less salt — and, indeed, less sugar—you will inevitably eat less processed food…[and] eat more real food," Bittman writes.

    And "if you eat more real food, not only are you healthier, but you probably don’t have to pay attention to how much salt you’re eating. Wowie zowie," he concludes.

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