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To salt or not to salt? That still remains the question

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, used with permission

A new recent study released by the US Food and Drug Administration this past Wednesday, August 13, has many people up in arms regarding low sodium intake. The research study, that also includes an accompanying editorial by Dr. Suzanne Oparil, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an expert on high blood pressure shows that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Currently the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association amongst other agencies have set the standard for daily salt intake at 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower. Currently though the average daily consumption of salt in the US is roughly 3,400 milligrams which falls slightly above the range stated in the new study.

The study was conducted over the course of over three years and not only included Americans but a total of 100,000 participants that spanned over 17 different countries. The study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine challenged what we all have been lead to believe in recent years, that salt is unhealthy for you to maintain a healthy heart especially with people who have no heart issues. This comes on the tales of a report that was presented to congress last year that stated that no conclusive evidence was found that by cutting sodium down to less than 3,000 could possibly increase the risk of heart diseases.

Just because a new study has been released doesn't mean that everyone is on board with it. The American Heart Association opposes the study and calls into question our ability to have confidence' in the findings, said Elliott Antman, AHA president. According to Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences in New Jersey, 'There is not a single study, not one, showing [such a] benefit for having a sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams'. . (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Sodium is an important mineral that occurs naturally all around us and regardless of any studies, our bodies need sodium to function properly even at the most basic level. Too much sodium can lead to serious health issues like increased blood pressure, water retention, kidney disease, organ disease including the heart and the brain and dementia. But in the same token when it comes to the brain, too little sodium can cause an iodine deficiency which affects the thyroids which it turn can actually make you less smart. Also too little salt for pregnant women can cause irreversible physical and mental retardation, impaired brain development and impaired intellectual development. (Source: WebMD). Lastly not enough sodium intake or hyponatremia can cause brain swelling, coma, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular collapse followed by acute blood loss, and impaired sympathetic cardiovascular adjustments to stress. (Source: Chris Kresser)

So who wins? Low salt intake or higher salt intake? The debate continues. More studies are needed on both ends of the spectrum especially since conducting long term researches are a daunting process that has yet to be undertaken by any one agency. Even smaller studies like this most recent one and last year's study are also subject to interpretation which makes the finding inconclusive. When in doubt consult your physician, be tested for hypertension, and have a sodium panel done that can determine hyponatremia (low sodium) and hypernatremia (high sodium). Also use simple tools that can be found online like a sodium intake calculator (click here for one) that can help you see if your intake is too high.

Here's a little bonus for you readers. With August being National Peach Month and the high sodium content in BBQ sauces (a standard go to for summer foods), try a different variation made with peaches instead. It's a small step but at least it's a step in the right direction regardless of which study proves to be accurate in the long run.

Peach Jalapeño Hot Sauce

Serving: 8

1 red or orange bell pepper

¼ jalapeño pepper

1 peach pitted and roughly chopped


Preheat oven and cover a baking pan with foil. Cut bell pepper and jalapeño in half. Remove stems and seeds. Then lay flat on foil and roast in oven on the middle rack until charred about 15 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a medium bowl, cover with fol and wait until cool about another 15 minutes. Then remove the skins and add the peppers to a blender or food processor. Add the peaches and puree until smooth. Sauce can be refrigerated for a week.


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