Salt: Not as Bad As We’ve Been Told?

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Salt may have gotten a bad rap all these years. At least that’s the conclusion of a new study published this week in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet.

According to the researchers, sodium intake was associated with cardiovascular disease and strokes only in communities where salt intake was greater than 5 grams per day.

The World Health Organization recommends salt consumption of no more than 2 grams per day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets its suggested consumption at 2.3 grams per day, while the American Heart Association recommends a daily maximum of 1.5 grams per day. The average American consumes 3.4 grams per day, according to trade association The Salt Institute.

The study reported in The Lancet included more than 95,000 subjects in 369 communities who were assessed for blood pressure and more than 82,000 in 255 communities assessed for cardiovascular diseases for a median 8.1 years. According to the study:

82 (80%) of 103 communities in China had a mean sodium intake greater than 5 [grams per] day, whereas in other countries 224 (84%) of 266 communities had a mean intake of 3-5 [grams per] day.

Positive associations with higher blood pressure were observed in communities where sodium intake was in the upper third of sodium consumption levels. The data regarding strokes was not as linear: subjects in the lower third of consumption level (less than 4.43 grams per day, among other metrics) had a significant inverse association with cardiovascular events; subjects in the middle third (4.43 to 5.08 grams of salt intake per day) showed no association; and subjects in the highest third (more than 5.08 grams of salt intake per day) had a positive “but non-significant” association with strokes.

A “strong association” with strokes was observed in China, where mean sodium intake reached 5.58 grams of salt per day. However, cardiovascular outcomes “decreased with increasing potassium levels in all countries.”

The takeaway: eat more bananas and sweet potatoes.

A summary of the study is available at The Lancet website.