Is That Right? "Decreasing salt intake is advisable"
The federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued in 2005, tell us that "Decreasing salt intake is advisable" for reducing the risk of hypertension and, by extension, cardiovascular disease. But new research questions the wisdom of counseling Americans to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams--about a teaspoon--of salt daily, as those guidelines advise. (The guidelines suggest those at high risk of hypertension cut back to 1,500 mg or less per day.)
Researchers in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis analyzed existing studies regarding people's salt intake and found that people appear to innately regulate the amount of salt in their diet. "Normal" salt intake, which they found consistent among all the studies they surveyed (involving more than 19,000 people from several countries), ranged between 2,700 and 4,900 mg a day. It's likely, the authors say, that people's central nervous systems have evolved to carefully control the amount of salt we seek. Sodium helps maintain your body's balance of fluids, transmit nerve impulses and regulate muscles' activities; getting too little, the authors suggest, could be as dangerous as getting too much. And outside attempts to govern salt intake might be destined to fail if our bodies are telling us we need more sodium.
Whether future studies bear out their findings, these researchers, whose work was published Thursday in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, say the folks involved in updating sodium-intake standards and devising the new Dietary Guidelines, due out in 2010, should consider whether it's wise public policy to recommend across-the-board sodium restriction if that restriction runs counter to our physiological needs:
If a "normal" range of sodium intake exists that is consistent with the optimal function of established peripheral and central nervous system (CNS) mechanisms, that fact should be the sole basis of national nutrition guidelines for dietary sodium intake. To attempt to use public policy to abrogate human physiology would be futile and possibly harmful to human health.
The Dietary Guidelines note that we get about 77 percent of our sodium from processed foods, which tend not to be very healthful, salt or no salt. Whether your aim is to reduce sodium consumption or not, steering clear of heavily processed foods may be "advisable" indeed.
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