Do Americans Get Enough Salt In Their Diets?

I’ve always been one of those people for whom the potatoes in french fries are a condiment added to a serving of salt.


Pretty much any of the usual suspects in nutrition would tell me that I was being an idiot, that it would give me high blood pressure or a heart attack or something. And the fact that even at my heaviest I never had blood pressure over what’s considered normal — 120/80 — and my recent blood pressures are running like 110/60 never seems to deter them.

So it was interesting to come across a recent, extensive, study on what the actual health outcomes are for low-salt diets. (You can go to the link and buy the whole book for $43.20 or you can download the PDF for free. Guess which I did.)

Remember a few weeks ago when we looked at a controversy over what an actual healthy weight is? It turned out that especially as we get older, being a little bit heavy was good: there was a greater risk of dying at a “normal” weight than there was for someone who was “overweight” according to body-mass index.

According to this study — which was a “meta-study”, it evaluated many different primary studies to try to decipher what the evidence was suggesting — it appears that something similar happens with salt intake. Here’s Finding 2 of the study:

The committee found that data among prehypertensive participants from two related studies provided some evidence suggesting a continued benefit of lowering sodium intake in these patients down to 2,300 mg per day (and lower, although based on small numbers in the lower range). In contrast, the committee found no evidence for benefit and some evidence suggesting risk of adverse health outcomes associated with sodium intake levels in ranges approximating 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day in other disease-specific population subgroups, specifically those with diabetes, [chronic kidney disease], or pre-existing [cardiovascular disease]. …

Emphasis mine, and I expanded the abbreviations.

What to make of this?

Well, first of all, I’m not your doctor, and in fact I’m not anybody’s doctor or even a doctor at all. If you’re on a low-salt diet because your doctor recommended it, don’t change it because of this article; talk anything over with your doctor first. But if you’re avoiding salt just because you’ve been told you should, and your blood pressure is normal and your kidneys are working well, it may be that worrying about your salt intake is more harmful than having some salt.

One more thing: some of the studies suggest that low salt diets may in fact increase insulin resistance and thus exacerbate type-2 diabetes.

This is the end of the sixth week of my current 13 week experiment: so far, my weight is down about 8 pounds (broke the plateau? Maybe so.) and my glucose is hovering around 115 on average. You can follow the conversation daily at the 13 Weeks Facebook page, and you can follow my fitful exercise endeavors by signing up for a free membership in Fitocracy.