For decades we’ve heard warnings on how the salt content of our food raises the risk for high blood pressure. Scan the labels on the supermarket shelves, and we can find hundreds of products proudly claiming to be “low sodium.” So it’s not surprising that many of us are trying to limit our salt intake in search of better health. The thing is, maybe we’ve been wrong this whole time. Could too little salt be just as dangerous as an excessive amount? Some recent studies are suggesting this may be the case, and mounting data suggests the relationship between salt and blood pressure is a little more complex.
When we discuss salt, it’s important to realize that it is essential for life. Salt supplies our body with a range of minerals, but most notably sodium, which plays an integral role in every cell in our body. There is a delicate balance between sodium and potassium, and together they regulate the volume of water in our cells.
Notably, research studies confirm that the sodium-potassium balance affects blood pressure more than just lowering salt does. Particularly good sources of potassium include red meat, fish, spinach, avocados, and various tubers and root vegetables such as winter squash.
Significantly, if we lower our salt intake too much, then we may be increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease. One study published in April 2017 by Boston University School of Medicine, found evidence that low-salt diets can be harmful.
This particular study was extensive and followed 2,600 men and women for more than 16 years. All participants had normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study, but over time, those who consumed less than 2,500 mg of sodium a day developed higher blood pressure than those who had consumed more sodium.
All this research indicates that restricting our salt intake might be doing more harm than good. But this doesn’t mean that we should go out and eat unlimited amounts of salt without worry.
Should you need convincing on this point, then here are some of the findings:
- Studies show that low-sodium diets reduce blood pressure by 1% if the individual is healthy. Even in patients suffering from hypertension, decreasing sodium intake only drops blood pressure by 3.5%. Is it worth risking the potential effects of insufficient salt intake, including low blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, for such a minimal drop in blood pressure?
- It appears that there is a delicate balance between too much salt and too little. While studies show that those with a low sodium intake have a risk of cardiovascular mortality, other studies find that both a “very high” and “very low” amount of increased mortality risk.
- New research asserts that low-salt diets increase the risk of insulin resistance, and possibly type 2 diabetes. For example, one study found that slightly restricting salt intake for five days reduced the insulin sensitivity of the study participants by an average of 15%.
This is all cause for concern when we consider just how many people are actively striving to keep their salt intake down. Instead, consider a recommended sodium intake of 6 grams, which the majority of studies now suggest. ■