Low Sodium: Sacrificing Flavor for…Higher Cholesterol


Contrary to what the Food and Drug Administration might insist on having you believe, high-sodium diets may not be so bad for you afterall, a new meta-analysis finds. Reuters reports:

The review—which collated and analyzed the findings of 167 previous studies—found that while cutting down on salt reduced blood pressure in people who have normal or high blood pressure, it also caused increases in some hormones and other compounds that can adversely affect people's heart health.

"I can't really see, if you look at the total evidence, that there is any reason to believe there is a net benefit of decreasing sodium intake in the general population," said Niels Graudal of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, who led the review…

A separate Cochrane Library review conducted by British researchers and published in July found no evidence that small reductions in salt intake lowered the risk of developing heart disease or dying prematurely.

Specifically, the new analysis found that reducing sodium intake increases cholesterol levels by 2.5 percent and triglycerides by seven percent.

Earlier this year, Time reported on two other studies also challenging the convential anti-salt wisdom:

Reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers found that those with the highest levels of sodium in their urine (the most accurate way to measure how much salt a person consumes) were more than four times less likely to die from heart disease than those with the lowest intake of sodium. During the nearly eight years of follow up, the heart-related death rate was 0.8% among those with the highest sodium levels and 4% among those with the lowest levels.

And the second:

Although lowering dietary salt resulted in a small dip in blood pressure, the researchers found no strong evidence that it reduced rates of death in people with high or normal blood pressure.

There are caveats to each of these studies, including limited duration, racial makeup, and age ranges analyzed in the research. Each concludes that these results are not the final word on the matter. But they do show that current widely accepted opinions about salt deserve more scrutiny.

Those involved in steering policy recommendations, however, do not seem particularly open to debate:

"The question is not 'should' we reduce salt intake, but 'how'," said Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and chairman of the World Action on Salt campaign group, who said he strongly disagreed with Graudal's findings.

Franceso Cappuccio of the World Health Organization is apparently too busy promoting his cause to stop and consider the evidence, saying the study "should not distract our attention for implementing salt reduction policies at population level globally, as directed by national governments, the World Health Organization and the United Nations."

Salt warriors unwilling to even consider data contrary to their crusade are certainly cause for concern. The FDA currently doesn't place an upper limit on the amount of sodium in processed foods, but there is pressure to change that. If low sodium groupies continue to dismiss opposing evidence out of hand, you may have to kiss your double-pan fried noodles (7,900 mg sodium) goodbye.

Reason's Jacob Sullum and Katherine Mangu-Ward on stupid food ideas herehere, here, and here