Salt: A necessary evil or an overly-maligned necessity?

Related articles

According to an analysis done by researchers affiliated with the Harvard School of Public Health, average daily sodium intake among Americans is 3950 mg. This number is almost twice what the World Health Organization recommends, and about three-fold what our American Heart Association posits as ideal for health.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues reviewed 247 surveys recording sodium intake among adults, the majority of that data being from 24-hour urinary sodium measurements. The rest came from diet-based surveys. These surveys included data from 66 countries and 74 percent of the world population. Using imputation modeling, the number of countries covered expanded to 187. Further analyses were also conducted, from which researchers concluded that cardiovascular disease deaths due to sodium intake greater than 1000 mg per day were 2.3 million in 2010.

Dr. Mozaffarian asserts that global public health efforts should focus on controlling sodium intake, and advises that governmental regulation and taxation are valid approaches to bringing down everyone s salt, or sodium, intake, if voluntary persuasions don t get the job done. And co-author Dr. Saman Fahimi adds, Sodium reductions have been shown to be one of the most cost-saving strategies in reducing the burden of noncommunicable disease.

However, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross expressed skepticism of this study. Studies that require many estimates and computer models, especially when encompassing a global canvas, can be manipulated to produce any conclusions the researchers may want. A study like this has the aura of evidence-based science, but many a priori assumptions about the relative hazard of dietary salt are necessary to empower the computer models selected; this process is fraught with bias. For instance, nowhere is the issue of low-salt induced adverse health effects addressed. Similar concerns were recently voiced over this group s findings about the havoc allegedly wreaked upon unsuspecting populations by sugary beverages. I d like to see them do some valuable work on, for instance, the toll of cigarettes.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava adds When we re referring to data from the developing world, let s not forget that high levels of salt may be used as a preservative to prevent deterioration and perhaps some types of foodborne illness. Salt is not only a flavoring additive!