New Salt Study Says Cutting Salt May Not Be Worth The Hassle

A new salt study released today from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called into question the whole concept of trying to get your sodium consumption down to below 2,300 milligrams per day — much less below the almost impossible limit of 1,500 mg a day suggested by many doctors for certain patients.

According to the IOM, the average American is still consuming about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt a day, about 3,500 mg.

Under current guidelines, all Americans over 50, African-Americans, and people with common diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease have been told to eat less than 1,500 mg of salt a day.

The IOM said that this advice is too strict and could even cause harm in some patients.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has already fired back. “We disagree with key components” of the new salt study, CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement. They said that they will continue to recommend that “all Americans eat no more than 1,500 mg a day of sodium.”

They come close to politely calling the IOM study bogus, saying that it focused on people who were already sick. The AHA statement argued that very low-salt diets help prevent high blood pressure and strokes.

A 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also questioned the idea that reducing salt helps prevent heart disease. Medical leaders like the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) said this earlier study was wrong because it collected data on too few people before reaching a conclusion.

“Take this study with a huge grain of salt, and then dispose of it properly,” Dr. Walter Willett, the chairman of the nutrition department at HSPH, said at the time.

In the new salt study, the IOM seemed to be advising moderation. IOM committee chairman Brian Strom told USA Today: “This is a two-sided message: We endorse public health efforts to lower excessive salt intake, but we raise questions about harm from too little salt.”

He also noted that it’s very difficult to cut salt intake below 1,500 mg a day. Most salt is hidden on food, not sprinkled on it out of the shaker.

The most common source of hidden salt? Often, it’s bread.

And another new salt study, released yesterday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said that the levels of sodium in processed foods are still too high to make it easy for people to cut way back on salt. The sodium levels have declined by only around 3.5 percent between 2005 and 2011 — so little that it could be just a random sampling error.

According to the CSPI new salt study, 90 percent of Americans get too much salt.

[salty chip photo by Silar via Wikimedia Commons]