The Surprising Scoop on Salt in Your Diet (Video)

Less is not necessarily best for everyone

The Surprising Scoop on Salt in Your Diet (Video)

Salt is portrayed as the villain in many stories in the media that tout healthy eating habits. But not everyone needs to worry about restricting their salt intake.

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Last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced guidelines that ask restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily cut the salt they add to food by a third over the next decade. Their goal is to save thousands of lives a year by reducing the number of people with high blood pressure by cutting their salt intake.

The FDA would like Americans to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, or about one teaspoon of salt. The American Heart Association suggests an even lower limit — of just 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

But evidence linking high sodium levels and heart disease isn’t as clear-cut as the FDA suggests.

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The problem is that the science on this subject is murky. Some studies have linked salt intake to high blood pressure and heart disease, while other studies find the connection more tenuous.

Your heart and body depend on sodium to function properly. So the question is: Should you eat less salt?

Who needs to watch salt

For those people with high blood pressure, salt reduction plus a diet rich in fruits and vegetables does seem to lower blood pressure. And it just might keep you off medications. So if you have high blood pressure, restrict your salt.

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For other people — the two-thirds of Americans who have normal blood pressure — our advice is less strict. That’s because for these people, the science is uncertain. Salt may not be as much of a problem for people with normal blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is normal, my advice is to avoid overdoing salt — but there is no need to eliminate it or to eat a low-salt diet. I can’t support the widespread recommendation to reduce sodium intake without better science.

More information
Read more expert advice from Steven Nissen, MD, on his blog.

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Steven Nissen, MD

Steven Nissen, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. In 2007, TIME Magazine named him “one of the 100 most influential people in the world.”
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