The People's Perspective on Medicine

Is Salt Good or Bad for Your Health?

Have you tried to cut back on salt? We would not be surprised if you had trouble meeting the AHA guidelines of less than 1.5 g of sodium daily. Should you feel guilty? is salt good or bad for you?

You have heard for years that salt is sinful. People who sprinkle salt on their food are frowned upon by many health professionals. The diet dictocrats will tell you that if you eat chips and salsa, cheddar cheese or pizza you will be headed for catastrophe. But what does the evidence reveal? Is salt good or bad for you? Is the question itself outdated? Should most people stop worrying about salt?

Are the AHA’s Sodium Guidelines Outdated?

The American Heart Association (AHA) and Health Canada recommend less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Less than 1 percent of Americans achieve such low levels. Some health experts have questioned the value of the 1.5 gram goal. That has not stopped public health organizations from guilt-tripping most people about their salt intake.

Now, new research published in The Lancet (Aug, 11, 2018) demonstrates that striving to reduce sodium consumption so drastically could be counterproductive. Investigators enlisted 95,000 middle-aged people from 18 countries.

The Canadian researchers followed their subjects for about eight years. Morning urine was tested to estimate sodium and potassium intake. This is one of the largest and most rigorous studies of salt ever undertaken. What the scientists discovered is heretical.

Although moderate sodium intake raised blood pressure somewhat, it appeared to lower the risk of death from heart attacks. Very high intake of sodium, greater than 5 grams daily, was associated with an elevated risk of strokes.

How Much Sodium Do People Consume?

Most people consume between 2 and 3 grams of sodium daily. At this level there was no risk and seemingly some benefit. The more potassium people consumed, the less likely they were to have a heart attack or a stroke.

Old News: Salt is Not the Enemy

For years, researchers have been trying to answer the question: Is salt good or bad for people? And for years the answer keeps coming back that moderate salt consumption (2.5-5 grams of sodium daily) is not dangerous.

Cutting back to below 1.5 grams daily as recommended by the AHA, however, might pose unexpected risks. Here are links to previous studies:

Low-Salt Food Tastes Blah: How Helpful Is It?

Is It Risky to Reduce Salt in Your Diet?

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective

Sodium is essential for health. When sodium levels fall too low the result is hyponatremia, a potentially life-threatening situation. Learn more about this condition at this link.

We are firm believers in the moderation in all things slogan. Too much salt is dangerous. Over 5 grams a day would be considered excessive. But too little sodium can also trigger trouble. Maintaining a middle ground between 2 and 3 grams appears to be the sweet spot for most people, based on the latest research.

Share your thoughts on the salt wars in the comment section below. Let us know if you think salt is good or bad and why. Perhaps the question should be, what does sodium do in the body and why it is important?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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If you are not cutting the salt you eat to the very low levels recommended by the American Heart Association, don't feel bad. A bit more might be better.

Show 1038: Should You Be Cutting the Salt in Your Diet?
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For a healthy alternative to table salt do a google search for Wright Salt. It’s a very heart healthy blend of minerals low in sodium chloride but with a true salt taste. Read about the huge study done in Finland a few years ago. Very impressive! I’ve used it exclusively for five years now and have excellent blood pressure with NO prescription drugs of any kind.

Several years ago while returning from the bathroom to the bedroom I suddenly got dizzy and nauseous. I thought I was having a heart attack. After seeing my doctor, and the nurse recording a very low blood pressure, she prescribed a small bag of potato chips. Worked. She thought I needed the salt from them. She said she hardly ever prescribes potato chips for her patients. :)

I have heard, probably on your show, that there has been an increase in iodine deficiency since people were recommended to cut back on salt.

And I knew from oceanography class that the minerals (salts) in sea water were in the same proportion to each other as in our body fluids, so I was happy when I saw iodized sea salt. Turns out that ordinary “sea salt” has been refined and the other minerals taken out. BUT the iodine is added as potassium iodide, so at least iodized salt has potassium in it.

(Have also heard that the iodine evaporates – but that would be iodine, leaving the potassium behind? Does anybody know? Do we need another iodine source? It is required for thyroid health.)

I know that my sodium level is always low. My blood is checked regularly, every 4-6 weeks, for other reasons but the doctor always tells me to add more salt to my food, which I always do. I add so much that the food tastes like pure salt. It’s awful, and it still shows really low, and each time he repeats the same directions. I don’t understand why this is happening. I cannot use any more than I already use. I was going through the nausea and dizziness. Any suggestions please?

“Less than 1 percent of Americans….”

“Fewer than 1 percent of Americans….”

Excellent article. A writer needs to know his English grammar.

My husband was diagnosed with severe heart failure (ejection fraction of 10 – 15) in 2010. He decided to limit, where possible, his daily salt consumption to 500 mg. Obviously this required a new way of viewing our cooking and restaurant choices. He gradually fought his way back to a respectable EF of 45, can walk 3 miles for exercise, and works with a personal trainer to improve core strength and balance. He continues to be regularly monitored by his cardiologist, and his sodium levels on bloodwork are in the normal range. By the way, he is 81 years old.

My diet is low in salt by choice. I use spices to add flavor. Blood pressure is normal because I exercise a lot and have normal weight. I think that there are individual differences for the effect of salt intake. You can calculate a statistical sweet spot for the population, but it may not apply to an individual.

I eliminated salt from my diet 10 years ago. Up to that time the dozen or so bp medicines I was put on had no effect on lowering my elevated bp. In addition, several of them had severe, negative side effects. After eliminating the salt my bp dropped to the 115/75 range. As far as taste, after a relatively short period I noticed that food tasted better. I am now at the point where I cannot eat most commercial canned products, soup, etc., because they are so salty. I do not understand why food manufacturers feel they must load their products with excessive salt.

These debates about salt generally do not take into account the type of salt to use. Highly refined bleached table salt is the one to avoid. It’s terrible for you. Instead use natural unrefined salts such as Himalayan pink salt or Mediterranean Sea salt, which both contain beneficial minerals & other trace nutrients.

Be wary of using any salt that has not been iodized as your primary salt. Iodized salt (table salt) is an important source of the essential mineral iodine in the US. Read the label, though. Some sea salt has been iodized and not all table salt has.

I live in Florida and am outside walking and working in 100 to 105 heat index temps. every day. Consequently I am completely soaked in sweat, salty sweat I should add, all day. Normally I seldom add salt to anything but in the hot summer I find I crave salty foods. I think I lose so much salt sweating that my body is telling me to eat salt. Does this make sense?

It does. Do pay attention to your blood pressure as well, though, just to make sure you and your body are in tune.

I worked in SW Arizona with temps in the 110 + and drink 3-5 gal. of water a day and sweat it all out. At our safety meetings weekly we are told to be sure to take your salt tablets. We had a couple of guys that didn’t, and passed out.

Yes, moderation in all things is reasonable. Just as not getting enough of something is not good, neither is getting too much. The longer I live the more skeptical I get about modern medicine. I remember reading 30 years ago that the condiment, mustard was linked to cancer, and there are numerous things that at one time or another medical science has said were bad for you, and then years later they do an about face. They are right as often as they are wrong, and as time marches on they revise their “facts” with no apologies to their patients. No wonder medical malpractice insurance is high. When you guess and assume without knowing for sure you will be wrong at least 50% of the time. Moderation is the key.

One way for me to cut down on my salt intake is to stay away from processed, packaged foods and soups. I make all of my meals from scratch.

This is a great approach.

I actually had to increase my sodium intake. I was getting dizzy & nauseous and even had leg cramps. Everything went back to normal when I increased my sodium back up to 1500 mg – this is especially true during the summer months with excessive sweating.

Doctors do NOT know everything. That is why it is called a Medical PRACTICE.

I was always told that your body will tell you how much salt it needs. What may be good for one person may not be good for another. When people perspire a lot they need more salt to replace what nutrients they have lost. I have always used salt in my vegetables in cooking but now I use a steamer. I put a little on my food.

Too much salt makes my fingers and face swell if I eat too much. I try to monitor how much I eat daily, not exceeding about 2300 mg.

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