Health Buzz: Report Questions Salt Intake Guidelines

Binge eating disorder: a diagnosis for healing; Is all processed food unhealthy?

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Evidence is Too Sketchy to Support Extremely Low Sodium Guidelines, Committee Finds

For years, we've been told to lay off the salt, as low-sodium products pop up in every form on supermarket shelves. But an expert committee commissioned by the Institute of Medicine suggests that sharply cutting our sodium intake to meet the very low, government-recommended levels may not be so beneficial after all. The government's dietary guidelines suggest that most adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day and that those at risk for heart attack or stroke consume less that than 1,500 milligrams per day. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that everyone, whether they're at-risk or not, shoot for consuming under 1,500 milligrams per day. (For context, is 1,500 milligrams is a little more than a half teaspoon of salt.) The committee's report confirmed that, yes, too much salt is linked to heart attack and stroke. But it also suggests that evidence is too weak to determine whether limiting sodium intake to under 2,300 per day increases or decreases the risk of heart disease or stroke, USA Today reports. Similarly, the report suggests that, as of now, there isn't enough evidence supporting the 1,500 milligram recommendation for at-risk people.

While this report sparks a discussion on the low mark for sodium intake, the fact is that most Americans aren't anywhere near that 2,300 milligram level. American adults still consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, and they should work to chip away at that number. "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," Brian Strom, Institute of Medicine committee chairman and executive vice dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania told USA Today.

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  • Binge Eating Disorder: A Diagnosis for Healing

    By age 6, Chevese Turner had already begun binging. It started with a box of ice cream cones she snuck into her bedroom. She then proceeded to devour them all. "I was always sneaking food. I would hide it. I would store it," says Turner, founder and CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association. "It wasn't necessarily that I even ate more than most people, but I was preoccupied with food. I was essentially learning to use food to cope with life."

    Her eating pattern of binging, followed by restriction – the latter a form of compensation and punishment that actually set her up for more binging – continued into adulthood. Eventually, Turner, now 45, conquered the disorder by accepting herself and learning healthy coping skills to handle stress.

    But it wasn't until receiving the right diagnosis that she could begin to recover, a process that only fully began in 2010. And that's why Turner and others are celebrating the fact that binge eating disorder will receive an official diagnosis in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the standard reference book for mental health professionals, scheduled to be released later this month. [Read more: Binge Eating Disorder: A Diagnosis for Healing]

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    • Is All Processed Food Unhealthy?

      If you asked me to define "processed food" a few weeks ago, I would have invoked Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's response when asked to define hard-core pornography: "I know it when I see it." Moreover, I generally considered it something that "other people" consumed. (Not terribly unlike how I regard hard-core pornography, incidentally.)

      It was therefore quite a wake-up call when I recently compiled the results of my family's weeklong food diaries for submission to the American Gut project, writes U.S. News blogger Tamara Duker Freuman. After documenting every bite that entered each one of our mouths for a week, I had to complete a questionnaire that required me to analyze the results. One question asked what percentage of our carbohydrate intakes came from "processed foods." The questionnaire then offered examples of what carbs the researchers considered to be processed. Among them: cereal, bread, pasta. Uh-oh.