Communion Of Dreams

Pass the salt.

<sarcasm> Gee, I’m stunned </sarcasm>:

No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.

Not only did they determine that there was little benefit in pushing for such low levels of overall salt intake, there might actually be health risks associated with such low levels. From the same article:

One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group.

Another study, published in 2011, followed 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older for 4.7 years and analyzed their sodium consumption by urinalysis. The researchers reported that the risks of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease increased significantly for those consuming more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day and for those consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.

OK, current CDC guidelines, dating back to 2005 (though based on research going back into the 1980s):

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), 2010 recommend reducing sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. The DGA’s also recommend you should further reduce sodium to 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day if:

  • You are 51 years of age or older.
  • You are African American.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You have chronic kidney disease.

The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population overall and the majority of adults. Nearly everyone benefits from reduced sodium consumption. Eating less sodium can help prevent, or control, high blood pressure.

How does this compare to what people actually consume? Well, sodium consumption from salt around the world is about 3,400 mg per person per day. This amount is pretty consistent across cultures, and has remained pretty stable over decades. In other words, the current governmental recommendations say you should be ingesting half to two-thirds of what people have been consistently ingesting. And there have been efforts by governments to impose increasingly strict limitations on salt consumption, usually through limitations on salt use in prepared foods.

There are two problems with that: one, there really isn’t good science to back up the limitations (as noted above). And two, limiting salt in prepared foods changes not only the flavor of the foods, but also the “mouthfeel“. And one of the easiest/most common ways to correct this is with the increased use of lipids (usually fats of one sort or another), since they have a similar effect to salt in creating food density. Meaning that people are probably ingesting more calories in response to prepared foods which has less salt in it. And since obesity is increasingly problematic …

Talk about your unintended consequences. Such is the danger of social engineering of just about every sort.

I started this post with the <sarcasm> </sarcasm> cues because I’ve long been skeptical of the science behind strict salt limitations. As I have noted previously, the evidence backing up strict limitations has been very mixed for decades. And there has been indication that for at least a substantial segment of the population, salt sensitivity wasn’t a problem at all. Now seeing that there is little evidence that lowering salt levels is beneficial for the general population, and that indeed there may be real risks in doing so?

Pass the salt, please.


Jim Downey