Salt serves an important function in our food, and in our bodies. As a preservative, it helps to limit the spoilage of food by preventing microbial growth. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the human nervous system.
The American Heart Association currently recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, considerably less than the 2,300 mg included in the latest rendition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For the average person, this can be very difficult to achieve, with even ‘healthy’ foods like whole wheat bread containing upwards of 200 mg of sodium per serving, and average consumption in the range of 3,400 mg per day. Although more and more products are being offered in low- and no-salt added formulations, keeping total daily intakes under 1,500 mg basically requires preparing most food from scratch, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. There is no question about the beneficial qualities of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, but are guidelines pushing for excessive sodium restriction really necessary?
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported no significant differences in the risk for developing heart disease over 10 years between individuals who consumed 1,500 mg of sodium per day and those who consumed 2,300 mg per day. This adds to the growing body of literature suggesting that moderate salt consumption is appropriate for most people, with salt restriction necessary only for those with specific health conditions, such as kidney disease, that require lower intakes.
We should certainly continue to encourage people to reduce the amount of salt in their diet. However, many find a 1,500 mg sodium diet to be hard to swallow. If you are looking to make healthy changes to your diet, don’t feel like you need to sacrifice taste – you won’t likely stick to the changes for very long. Instead, balance moderate salt intake with more potassium, a prevalent mineral found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Aim for a 2:1 ratio, consuming twice as much potassium as sodium. People can enjoy the benefits of a healthy diet without giving up all of the foods they enjoy. You can have your salt, and eat it too.
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