The New Salt Guidelines: How low can you go?
- Created on Monday, 22 November 2010 02:53
The USDA issued new salt guidelines in 2010 advising all Americans not to exceed 1500 mgs in their daily salt consumption. This was in sharp contrast to their previous advice which allowed most people to consume up to 2400 mgs daily. A lot of people, including some doctors, are screaming bloody murder about this, and the online community seems particuarly incensed about it. But, let me give you my take.
We know how much sodium the human body actually needs each day. It's about 500 mgs, and the body can actually get by on less by ratcheting up its sodium-conserving mechanisms. The body can squeak by on 250 mgs/daily if it has to. But, the body gets by with ease on 500 mgs/day with no strain at all. So, even 1500 mgs is 3x as much as required. However, the sodium-excreting mechanisms of the body are so efficient that most people can handle that much sodium load without a problem. But, I'll tell you, honestly, that there is no good reason to go higher than that. So in this case, I don't have a problem with the government's decree, and what I mean is that I think it's a good target to aim for.
In my life, I try to control my sodium intake, and I'm sure that on many days, I do consume less than 1500 mgs. However, I know that there are some days that I do go a bit higher, maybe as high as 2000 mgs. That is still below average because the average American consumes 3000 to 5000 mgs of sodium daily, and heavy salt users may go as high as 10,000 mgs or higher. But, I don't mind being reminded to keep trying to lower my salt intake because it's a worthy endeavor.
What's the harm from sodium? Well, obviously high blood pressure is an issue. It has not been a problem for me. My blood pressure has stayed low despite moderate salt intake. But if my pressure were to start rising, I would indeed lower my salt intake dramatically. But besides that, we know that excess sodium is bad for the bones. You know how salt corrodes the underside of cars and the surfaces of roads when they salt them in the winter? You might say it does the same thing to bones. Salt is an irritant, and it irritates the stomach. The high rate of stomach cancer in Japan is believed to be due to the high salt consumption. And salt may play a role in hardening of the arteries- not in the plaquing, which is soft, but in the hardening which comes later.
So, there are good reasons for all of us to limit our salt intake- even if we are lucky enough not to experience a rise in blood pressure from it.
Is sea salt better than standard table salt? I believe it is because it does contain other minerals. However, keep in mind that it's still 97% sodium chloride, and sodium chloride is sodium chloride whether it's mined from the sea or from the land. So, I'm all for sea salt, but let's not get over-enthused about it. Let's not mistakenly think that we can use it willy-nilly just because it's from the sea.
There is one important caveat: There are people with salt-wasting diseases, such as Addison's disease, where the adrenal glands fail to signal the kidneys to conserve sodium. These people lose copious amounts of sodium in their urine and hence have an unusually large daily requirement. But fortunately, Addison's disease is quite rare, and if you had it, you'd know about it by now.
Keep in mind that many people consume a lot of sodium without ever picking up a salt shaker. Cheese, bread, chips, canned foods, commercial soups, frozen dinners, and almost all restaurant dishes are loaded with salt. They add salt to everything. You don't think of cookies as being salty, but they are. Did you know that they add salt to ice cream? In my life, I avoid most of that stuff. I do eat whole grain bread which has about 100 mgs of sodium per slice. That's actually considered low by commercial standards. I eat canned beans, but I buy ones that are low in salt. Yet, they still have about half as much salt as the regular ones. The saltiest thing I eat is a frozen vegetarian dinner which has 700 mgs. It's the nights I eat that that my total daily consumption may exceed 1500 mgs.
So, I don't consider myself a purist about salt by any means. But, if I were having major health problems, I would immediately cut way back to less than 1000 mgs a day.
Anyway, the bottom line is that when you do the Math, you realize that it really does make sense to minimize your salt consumption. And I can tell you that just from writing this little article, I am feeling empowered and motivated to try harder to get my salt consumption down.