Dangers of a too low salt diet

For years, the standard for a “healthy” diet was low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium. Now a new, comprehensive study suggests that cutting back too much on sodium could actually be hazardous to your health.

For years, the standard for a “healthy” diet was low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium. Now a new, comprehensive study suggests that cutting back too much on sodium could actually be hazardous to your health.

Daily dietary sodium target breakdown

The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of dietary sodium every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is well above the current recommendations of notable health groups, including U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association, which recommend just 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium daily.

However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine had some startling findings about sodium intake. The study followed more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years. It found that people who consumed less than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27 percent higher risk of death or a serious health event, such as a heart attack or stroke, when compared with those who consumed between 3,000 and 6,000 milligrams a day. Health risks increased with sodium intake above 6,000 milligrams. This study, coupled with the lack of evidence for the benefits of very low-salt diets in the prevention of heart disease from an Institute of Medicine report, spells bad news for proponents of low-sodium diets.

“At this point, one conclusion that can be drawn is that neither high-sodium nor low-sodium diets are healthy,” said Jing Bryant, M.D., family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Hurstbourne. “I believe that more studies need to be done in the future on low-sodium diet risks and benefits to our health. We should not narrow our mind at this point.”

Dangers of a high-sodium diet

While questions still loom about low-sodium diets, the dangers of a diet high in sodium are clear. The American Heart Association reports that excessive sodium intake may put you at risk for the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stomach cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney stones
  • Headaches

Dr. Bryant notes that meeting current sodium recommendations can be daunting for most everyone, citing that fewer than 1 percent of Americans are in compliance. She suggests that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for sodium intake and that physicians should make decisions that are reasonable for their patients.

“I always tell my patients that moderation is key: not too much, not too little. Guidelines are, after all, only guidelines,” Dr. Bryant said.

When crafting a diet that is right for you, Dr. Bryant recommends diversifying foods and introducing more natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables and legumes.

“If we all add more natural foods to our diet, then we don’t have to worry about sodium intake that much,” Dr. Bryant said. “We will get the nutrition we need from our diet, and we will stay healthy.”


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