The Salt Debate

Posted On Apr 6, 2015 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

The Salt Debate

Put down the pickles, olives, smoked salmon, and soy sauce with your sushi. Pretty much all the good things in life! Oh, and I forgot to mention no more dark chocolate with sea salt. Ugh!

While most health professionals agree that cutting back on processed high-sodium foods, such as potato chips, French fries, and bacon, will improve our heart health, the new great diet debate has emerged: To limit sodium or not. And if so, by how much? These questions have been answered with variance and ongoing debate for people with high blood pressure (limiting daily sodium intake to 2000mg or less), but now some experts are recommending even healthy individuals with no blood pressure issues should limit sodium intake.

These new recommendations are based on a recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology** showing that excess salt intake can effect vital organs, including the heart, kidneys, and brain, even if there’s no change in blood pressure. The definition of excess salt intake varies.

Once again, the most important thing is to keep the big picture in mind, or the whole plate in mind in this case, and not get too wrapped up in focusing on a single nutrient. If your diet consists of 80% fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats with moderate alcohol, added sugars, and higher sodium foods, then there’s no reason to fret over grams of sodium UNLESS you have high blood pressure or a family history of it. The sodium will take care of itself if you limit processed foods, eating out, and don’t chug pickle juice after every workout.

If you’re trying to reduce your salt intake, these 10 foods comprise 40% of our total sodium intake:

  1. Breads and rolls
  2. Canned soups
  3. Cheese
  4. Crackers, chips, and pretzels
  5. Cured meats and cold cuts
  6. Meat dishes such as meatloaf
  7. Pasta dishes
  8. Pizza
  9. Poultry
  10. Sandwiches, such as cheeseburgers

If you make home-made versions, it’s much easier to control the amount of salt or purchase lower-sodium versions of foods like low-sodium soup and lunchmeat. Our taste buds change over time so cutting back on salt gradually won’t be as noticeable as trying to drastically reduce it over-night. Also, the more we eat of something the more we want it. This is very true of salt, fat, and sugar. The less you eat of any three of these, the less your body will want it.

It’s also vital to remember that blood pressure is also significantly impacted by exercise, stress management, sleep patterns, and genetics. Cutting back on salt alone won’t make your diet automatically healthier or ensure a healthy heart. Take a comprehensive balanced approach for a healthy life (with a dash of salt included!).

What do you think about the salt debate? Let us know in the comments below.

**William B. Farquhar, PhD∗; David G. Edwards, PhD∗; Claudine T. Jurkovitz, MD†; William S. Weintraub, MD†
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;65(10):1042-1050. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039