The Controversial Salt Shaker: Sodium

The Controversial Salt Shaker Do you crave salty snacks? Do you avoid salted and high-sodium foods like the plague? Or are you somewhere in-between? Maybe it’s not even a consideration for you. Research news out of Europe would lead us to believe that the time-honored precautions we take with salt—in the name of maintaining normal blood pressure, heart health, and physical wellbeing in general—are based on mythical musings or false assumptions. This is big news! The results of the study were published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Investigators found, over 6½ years, that subjects who had lower salt intake (by urinalysis) were more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who consumed more salt. Heresy? Maybe. But the results were surprising also with regard to blood pressure. Amount of sodium in the urine did not seem to be related to development of high blood pressure over the study’s duration—at least among those people with normal blood pressure to begin with, the researchers are quick to point out. So, should we start salting foods we normally don’t? or increasing the amount of salt we add to popcorn, tomato sandwiches, or omelets? Experts in this country, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, are calling the study flawed and warning people not to use this new finding as reason to discard their low-sodium diets or to eat more junk food (usually loaded with salt). Concerns they have cited regarding the study include relatively small sample (especially the number of deaths upon which conclusions were based), disagreement with results of numerous other studies, ignoring or not reporting other risk factors, and dangers of misinterpretation by the lay public. The controversy over what salt does or doesn’t do to one’s health will rage on. And we need to keep our collective eye on it. But whether or not it affects our eating habits for the time being is the critical question. Will it?