It’s become accepted as an iron clad rule: if you have high blood pressure you need to cut out salt in your diet. That’s the standard advice and almost unquestioned doctrine. But how true is it? The answer may surprise you.
A recent paper released by researchers Dr. Elif Ekinci and Prof. George Jerums reported on what happened to 638 older people with type 2 diabetes that they follow for 10 years. It turned out that the death rate was higher in the people with the lowest salt intake.
This is not the first study to fly in the face of the long accepted doctrine that salt is bad. One level-headed look at the situation came from the Cochrane Collaboration. This group specializes in looking at the evidence behind all manner of medical treatment. Their general approach is to review all the studies available and evaluate the quality of the study as well as it’s results. Ideally, they find a number of well-controlled randomized studies.
After they’ve identified the studies that are likely to provide reliable information they look at the aggregate results and report on them.
They did this with regards to salt intake and death from all causes.
They found seven high quality controlled trials looking at a total of 6200 people. They found no evidence of an association of higher salt intake with a higher rate of heart disease or death.
Even more surprisingly, another Cochrane review of 163 studies suggested that a low salt intake harmed people with diabetes or heart disease.
Even with more and more studies questioning the wisdom of severely restricting sodium intake don’t expect medical opinion to change anytime soon. Unfortunately, doctors aren’t immune to accepting something that proponents adamantly declare as fact even if evidence is lacking.
For now it may be reasonable to take a middle ground. Avoid overly salty food (as most packaged or canned food is) but don’t be completely phobic about adding some salt to your food. Also be sure to include foods rich in other key minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. If you don’t have any kidney problems, you may even want to supplement with those minerals.
And always remember that the foundation of good health is a healthy diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, some lean protein and moderate amounts of healthy fats.