Could slashing salt threaten your heart? If a string of health headlines yelling “Too little salt could be bad for you” has made you think that, listen up. New claims questioning the link between sodium, blood pressure and long life aren’t telling you the whole story. We will!
Yes, your body needs some sodium. It regulates blood pressure and keeps your muscles and nerves humming. But like Christmas carols crooned by chipmunks, more isn’t better. A very small percent of people with high blood pressure are extremely salt-sensitive. If you’re among them, sodium launches your blood pressure skyward.
Halving your intake cuts your heart-attack risk by 30 percent or more.
One third of other adults have hypertension; you need to watch salt, though not as intensely. But for everyone else, we YOU Docs strongly believe many other nutrients are far more important. That doesn’t mean we think it’s fine to eat “salt bombs” (check the box to the right), but you don’t need to count every milligram either.
As for those “salt’s fine” studies, here’s the deal. Three biggies have come out since summer:
- One reviewed seven studies and found that reducing sodium didn’t reduce fatal heart attacks.
- Another looked at 167 studies and concluded that low-salt eating did nudge pressure lower but seemed to increase risky blood fats.
- The third analyzed two big studies of 29,000 people with heart disease or at high risk for it. High and low sodium seemed to increase fatal heart attacks.
Sounds convincing, right? And meets our three-study criteria for trustworthy research. But hold on.
For starters, these studies aren’t the gold standard: randomized, controlled research that proves cause-and-effect.
Instead, all analyzed other studies that had some sodium data. That’s a major weakness.
Strike 1: The sodium info was sketchy. In some studies, volunteers described intake — not that reliable (do you remember what you ate last Thursday for breakfast?). Others used one urine check to decide whether people had low-, medium- or high-sodium diets (also iffy).
Strike 2: Many people had heart problems, so some low-sodium eaters likely were sick folks trying to get better.
Strike 3: The studies didn’t last long enough to see if changing sodium made long-term differences in strokes and heart attacks.
So what should YOU do? Focus on all-around heart-smart eating. Low sodium’s only part of that.
The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” For more information go to www.RealAge.com.
Top 10 salt bombs
Sidestep these biggest sources of hidden salt:
- Pizza (meat-topped or plain)
- White bread
- Processed cheese
- Hot dogs
- Spaghetti with pre-made sauce
- Salty snacks (corn chips, etc.)
- Noodle soups
- Mac ’n’ cheese