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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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January 2020 (Vol. 11 Issue 4)

Pass the salt
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Pass the salt image

Dire warnings about the dangers of salt should be taken with... well, a pinch of salt, an expert panel says.

We shouldn't be consuming more than 6 g/day of salt, which is roughly a teaspoon. Any more than that and we increase our risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease, current health guidelines warn us.

Salt is supposedly deadly because of sodium, which makes up around 40 per cent of its content, while chloride makes up the rest. That means that 6 g of salt contains 2.3 g of sodium.

Most health guardians in the UK and US reckon we should be keeping our daily sodium intake down to around 2.5 g/day, but some think it should be even lower. The American Heart Association wants us to consume no more than 1.5 g/day of sodium, and that's just 3.75 g of salt or half a teaspoon.

But these warnings have been overdone, an influential expert panel has concluded. The true safe upper limit is more than two times the level that current guidelines recommend.1

People can safely consume around 5 g/day of sodium without raising their risk of hypertension and heart disease—and that's around two teaspoons of salt.

Experts from the World Heart Federation, the European Society of Hypertension and the European Public Health Association say they could find no evidence to support the current recommendations. In fact, they say it's "not feasible" for people to consume such low doses, and it may even be harmful to restrict salt to that extent. Instead, people can safely consume between 3 g/day and 5 g/day of sodium without suffering any health problems.

The current guidelines came about after some studies noted that blood pressure levels had fallen when people were consuming no more than 1.5 g/day of sodium, but these findings were "controversial" and "inconsistent", the expert panel says.

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