Health Buzz: Eating Less Salt May Not Help Heart Health

8 ways to cut salt out of your diet; federal dietary guidelines fall short.

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Study: Low-Salt Diet May Not be Effective

Going easy on the salt shaker may not curb heart risks, a new study suggests. Belgian researchers tested nearly 3,700 people at the beginning and end of an 8-year period, and found that those with the lowest levels of salt consumption—about 2,500 milligrams per day—were no less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who got nearly 6,000 mg. a day. And participants with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease: 4 percent, compared to less than 1 percent among those who consumed the most salt. The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, run counter to prevailing dietary wisdom. The federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated in January, recommend Americans limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg. a day, or 1,500 mg. for people with a greater risk of high blood pressure or heart disease. Medical experts criticized the new research, pointing out that it doesn't prove cause and effect because it only observed people and did not involve testing an intervention. Plus, participants did not have high blood pressure or heart disease at the start, and were all middle-aged Europeans; the results may not translate to other populations. "At the moment, this study might need to be taken with a grain of salt," Peter Briss, a medical director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times.

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  • 8 Ways to Cut Salt Out of Your Diet

    Here are some suggestions for cutting back on salt, provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Stephen Havas, vice president for science, quality, and public health at the American Medical Association:

    Cook from scratch so you know exactly what's in your food. You might be surprised at the sodium content included in that prepackaged meal you love: The CSPI has analyzed a whole range of processed foods and has found ready-made roasted carved turkey containing as much as 5,410 milligrams of sodium per serving; half of a ready-made pepperoni pizza might contain as much as 1,350 milligrams.

    When you do opt for ready-made pizza or other packaged foods, choose products that say they're sodium free, very low in sodium, light in sodium, or unsalted or have low or reduced sodium. If you can't find many, Havas advises asking your local grocery store to start stocking them. Even bread and cereal may surprise you: The CSPI found whole-wheat bread containing anywhere from 150 to 190 milligrams of sodium per slice, depending on the brand; white bread had 115 to 230 milligrams per slice.

    Substitute spices, herbs, and salt-free blends for salt in cooking and at the dinner table. [Read more: 8 Ways to Cut Salt Out of Your Diet.]

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    • For Realistic Advice on Healthy Eating, Federal Dietary Guidelines Fall Short

      Quick: How many milligrams of sodium did you eat during the Super Bowl?

      If your big game buffet included choices like hot dogs, buffalo wings, fries, and cole slaw, you probably blew through your day's allowance of sodium in a single meal, according to the most recent edition of the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These comprehensive guidelines for healthy eating, which are updated every five years to reflect the latest scientific data, advise that healthy adults and children ages 2 and older consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Adults over 50, or those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, should consume less than 1,500 mg. Unfortunately, only 1 in 7 of us currently meets those targets; the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day, family physician Kenny Lin writes for U.S. News.

      Eating too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, which increases risk of a heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems. Two studies published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that reducing average sodium intake by 1,200 mg per day could prevent up to 92,000 deaths each year and save more than $30 billion in medical costs by 2050. [Read more: For Realistic Advice on Healthy Eating, Federal Dietary Guidelines Fall Short.]