A national program to reduce dietary salt “could prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths and trim as much as $24 billion from the U. S. health care tab,” says a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. We’ve grown used to seeing loud health warnings and watching our food industries change course.
When you were growing up butter and other saturated animal fats were believed to cause conditions such as heart disease and they were treated like poison. Most households switched over to margarine and other vegetable oils. By the second decade into the new millennium, we realised that the illness was still there! It had grown, and now our children were in the firing line for various lifestyle diseases.
While your body can still find a way around being deprived of natural animal fats (by turning processed carbohydrates into saturated fat) it comes at the expense of your health - now salt has become the new ‘toxin’. But your body needs salt and has no way of making it. You need salt to live.
Do we eat too much salt?
Let’s get some perspective: today, in the West, we eat about half as much salt as our ancestors did. Now we preserve food in fridges, by canning or dehydration – back in time, perishable foods were preserved with salt.
Are there healthy salt-eating nations?
On average, the people of Japan have the highest life expectancy, but they also have one of the highest salt intakes in the world. Perhaps the rest of their diet and community culture balances out the salt? While removing a measure of salt may lower your blood pressure in the short-term, cutting down on stress and eating more fresh fish would be a more permanent lifestyle change towards health.
Why is salt so important?
It isn’t just there to make your tears salty! Salt is a key factor in many vital chemical reactions in your body. Here are just some of the processed that need salt to work:
- Production of energy
- Protein transport
- Hormone production
- Enzyme function
So, we’ve opened up the salt question for you. Next time, we’re going to explore the secret factories and workshops inside the human body to see exactly what salt does - and what too little salt can do!
Before you go, here is just some of the science
2006. A March 2006 analysis of the federal NHANES II database in The American Journal of Medicine found a 37% higher cardiovascular mortality rate for low-sodium dieters.
2007. An article reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology in February 2007 described a study of over forty thousand Japanese over seven years and found “the Japanese dietary pattern was associated with a decreased risk of CVD mortality, despite its relation to sodium intake and hypertension.”
2007. An analysis of a large Dutch database published in the European Journal of Epidemiology in October 2007 documented no benefit of low-salt diets in reducing stroke or heart attack incidence, nor lowering death rates.
2008. An examination of NHANES II (the largest U.S. federal database of nutrition and health) published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in May 2008 confirmed two earlier studies of earlier NHANES surveys: there is no health benefit (CVD or all-cause mortality) for those on low-sodium diets.